The Sleep Paralysis Project

“I looked at my right arm and willed it to move. I commanded it to move. It stayed put. When I tried to sit up or rollover nothing happened. I panicked. On the inside I was a twisting fury, but the shell of my body remained motionless. I gave up the struggle, overwhelmed by an intuition that if I tried any harder I would break through the shell and float away…

I now recognise this as a lucid dream, an hallucinatory state in the hinterlands of slumber where the mind is alert, but the body remains bound by the paralysis of sleep — the intersectionof dream life and reality.”

- Paul Broks, The Ghost Tree

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The Sleep Paralysis Project is a collaborative cross platform project examining the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. As part of the 10th London Short Film Festival, Rich Pickings hosted the project’s launch with a short film and discussion event at Science Museum’s Dana Centre. Event guests included Dr Paul Broks, neuropsychologist and writer; Prof Christopher French, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit and Psychoanalyst David Morgan. Accompanied by a programme of some of the best experimental and live action shorts on the subject, the speakers each brought their own interpretation of the phenomenon, its causes and its cultural implications.

You can read a detailed account of the event and find links all films on the blog of the Sleep Paralysis Project, but below are some of the shorts that were screened, and some of the things that were said.

Hypnogogia from Louise Wilde on Vimeo.

“You’re in this state, you realise you can’t move, and you get a very strong sense of presence. You feel certain that there is someone, or something in the room with you and whatever that thing or person is they mean you no good at all. they’re evil, in some cases a pure evil…

Very often these episodes are associated with hallucinations. These might be visual (you might see lights moving around in the room, dark shadows, grotesque monstrous forms); they might be auditory (you might hear footsteps, or voices, or mechanical sounds); they might be tactile (you might feel as if you are being touched, or as if someone is holding you tightly, or as if someone is dragging you out of the bed. Sometimes these can turn into full blown out of body experiences.”

- Christopher French, Professor of Psychology

ABDUCTEES from PAUL VESTER on Vimeo.

“If you’ve had these experiences, and particularly if you’re having them on a repeated basis, and you’re thinking ‘I don’t understand it, I want an expaination’… if you then read one of these books by any of the self-proclaimed UFO experts you then think ‘That’s it! That’s what happened to me! That explains my experience.’ And you may think that what you should then do is try to recover that memory… so you go to see a hypnotherapist who specialises in regression. And unfortunately, the use of hypnosis to try and recover repressed memories is actually likely to provide the ideal context for the production of false memories.”

- Christopher French, Professor of Psychology

Hum (trailer) from Emily&Anne on Vimeo.

“People take symbols from wherever they can… the dwarf, the hag – probably from fairy stories – represent an oppressive force keeping you down. Something in your mind that prevents you from being free.”

- David Morgan, Psychoanalyst

 

The Sleep Paralysis Project is supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award. To find out more about the project and the phenomenon, visit: www.thesleepparalysisproject.org

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5 comments

  1. yeng yang · · Reply

    Hi Carla,

    Just saw an article about this on Yahoo News and thought I’d look this up. I too, have had many sleep paralysis episodes. I believe I first experienced these episodes around my late teen years, though I haven’t experienced any in years, being 24 at the moment.

    With my first few encounters and with the idea of spirits and ghosts, and that it is a cultural “thing” coming from my parents, who also experience these episodes of sleep paralysis, it was indeed a frightening period for me.

    Well, I eventually research a bit on it and found that many others, from all ethnicities also experienced these so called, sleep paralysis episodes. I eventually convinced myself and prepared for the sleep paralysis. And you’re right, if you’re mentally prepared and just being rational and calm about it when it happens, it does go away quite nicely.

    I remember lying down one morning, found myself encountering one, and while the first few seconds took me by surprise, I actually mentally told myself that everybody encounters this and that it would eventually go away, and just to relax, try not to resist, or move my arms or legs, and breathe. I remember being able to see very little and being aware of my surroundings, yet not able to move or scream — but was actually surprised that the episode went away rather quickly when i mentally calm myself about it, using the strategies above.

    Since then, I gradually stopped having these sleep paralysis episodes, and when it does happen, like once a year, I am mentally prepared for it. What is most surprising about this whole situation of mine is that, I am able to “feel” it when I am about to go into a sleep paralysis. At times, I just let it run its course.
    Yeng

  2. Raymond Hardy · · Reply

    i also found this from the news. it also happens to me. starting in late teens and peaking around age 22, then tapering off until only occasional at age 38. the first time it happened i swore it was an out of body experience, i investigated that for a year until it happened again.

    after it happened to me many times i rationalized it like this: i am sleeping and most likely dreaming when my eyes suddenly open. now my visual is mixed with the perceived audio from my dreams. since my eyes see my bedroom ceiling, i am confused at the sounds at first which MUST be coming from behind me, out of my peripheral. i think that’s why people sense a presence.

    The second time it ever happened to me, i had moved into a new apartment near my brother. I was tired and took a shower, then fell asleep, sideways on my bed. The episode started and I could see the ceiling of this strange room that i did not recognize, it was quite terrifying until i realized that i was in my new apartment. then i remembered i was only in a towel and my mind must have changed my dream to fit with my visual. Now the sound was my brother and his wife breaking into my apartment, and “oh my, they are going to catch me nearly naked!!!”

    like the other stories i have read this evening, i have learned to allow it to run its course. I can tell the moments before it happens. i have also learned to let out small groans in the exhale of my breathing. my wife then wakes me up to see if i am ok. then when i fall back asleep it will happen again almost right away. i must change to a radical new position or get up to walk for a moment if i dont want it to happen again.

  3. RandomLucidity · · Reply

    This past July after moving into my new apartment about a week and a half before two finals for my summer courses, I experienced sleep paralysis for my first time. I have been a vivid/lucid dreamer since my early teenage years, but in recent years the dreams have been becoming more clear and memorable. I can recall precisely the series of events that unfolded last July as if it were yesterday; futhermore, my Mom and my little sister also report having incredibly vivd dreams which makes me wonder if there is a genetic component to this ‘control’ or sensation. I am not a very spiritual person and I had never heard of sleep paralysis until finding out after the fact what had happened to me. It was very terrifying because of the intensity and the overwhelming reality of the situation. It was as if a dormant pathway linked to a deep-rooted childhood memory associated with an image that troubled me as a child was reactivated and a terrifying image was walking slowly toward the foot of my bed. I could hear the baseball game (with announcer commentary) I had been watching in the other room in the background and none of my other roomates were home. I began to panic as the ‘being’ (which I can only describe as an undead subadult of sorts with hair covering or concealing most of his or her face) approached my bed and the panic only intensified as I found that I could not move a muscle in my body; the panic heightened as the being climbed ontop of my chest and began to press down on my ribcage, which made me feel like I was slowly suffocating. It was one of the most terrifying and powerless moments I can recall in my life. I was fighting with myself, trying to regain physical control of my conscious self never having had to try so hard to move any aspect of my body; it was as if my neurons were firing from the CNS only to not meet the energetic requirements for subsequent synapses to fire at the presynaptic neurons (that was what was going through my head during the dream, as I had just taken an in-depth anatomy course a few months beforehand). Eventually, after struggling for what seemed like forever, I recall standing near the doorway looking down on this being on top of my physical body in disbelief as what was occurring (since I am not a very spiritual person). For how long this OBE lasted I am not quite sure but the next thing I knew I felt that I was back in my body and sat up in my bed gasping for air. I dismissed this occurrence initially as my subconscious playing a ‘trick’ on me. However, I came down with a fever (about 102 degrees F or ~39 C) the following morning and was very sick with a sore throat and what the doctors could only determine to be a virus of some sort for the remainder of the week. Last week I woke up after having a very intense lucid dream and was yelling and sweating with my heart racing. This is another very course intsensive semester for me (I’m in 2 separate organic chemistry courses as well as a biology course and a genetics course) and I had the most certain feeling that I was about to slip back into that lucid dream with that same ‘being’ coming after me. However, this time I feel as if I had triumphed either it’s or my subconscience’s will to overtake me. I feared while in my dream that if I had allowed such an event to occur that I would become sick again, and do not wish to have any more SP occurrences in which I am the victim and powerless to some sort of subconscious projection. I would like to be able to control the occurences that take place in future SP incidents, and was wondering if there are any tips for someone who doesn’t exactly try to provoke these types of occurences, but rather has always just had these types of lucid/vivid dreams?

    1. Hi, thanks for posting this thoughtful account. I have also found that fever and illness can bring on intense SP attacks, it can be very disturbing. Although there is a lack of formal treatments for SP we’ve put some popular tips for managing attacks here: http://www.thesleepparalysisproject.org/about-sleep-paralysis/treatment/

  4. Georgiy · · Reply

    I have been having these every night around 2:30 almost for the past 2 months and just the other day. I had this purple-ish looking fairy thing the size of a 4 foot person hover towards to the couch right by my face, but this time it was a benevolent feeling. Like I almost felt its warm energy and wanted more until I snapped out of it. But that is the first ‘nice’ experience I have had, many times, it is neutral and does not even seem to pay attention to me. But I have been choked one time, and had my dad not woken me up, I honestly think my body would be dead. Strange thing is, is that my pop’s has had experiences ever since he woke me up that night.

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