Ghost Buster TQP0022
Posted By Anney E.J. Ryan
I have a ghost story for you.
Late one night, my friend woke to her bed shaking violently. Someone, or something, stood over her bed and whispered in her ear: “Hey! Wake up!”
The girl pretended to be asleep until the shaking and whispering stopped. No door opened or closed, indicating that a physical person had left the room. Whatever it was just disappeared.
Is this a true ghost story or a lie? Possibly neither. It could have been sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is a condition where a person, either falling asleep or waking, feels unable to move or speak. It occurs when s/he moves through the stages of sleep too quickly. It’s caused by anxiety disorder, panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder, and insomnia.
During SP, the brain wakes up, while the body remains asleep. Because the sleeper is technically asleep, s/he feels paralyzed, although awake, and continues to dream. This is where the ghost sightings come in.
J. Allan Cheyne, psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has been studying sleep paralysis for the last twenty years. According to his testimonies and studies, sixty percent of SP sufferers experience “intruder” hallucinations, a creature sitting on their chest. Some feel like they’re floating, or having an out-of-body experience. Some claim to see hairy men, witches, demons and dark clouds in their rooms.
Consequently, sleep paralysis has been used to explain alien abductions too.
In Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Harvard Prof. Susan A. Clancy claims that alien abductions can be explained as sleep paralysis, and an overactive imagination. She also found that many alien abductees, as well as SP sufferers, were physically abused as children. Needless to say, when her book came out, Clancy’s subjects were not amused with her hypothesis.
I’m not either. I’ve had sleep paralysis since the age of six. While I’ve never seen a ghost or an alien, I can tell you that there’s no way anyone would mistake SP for a paranormal experience.
SP feels a little like being buried alive—minus the terror of actually being buried alive. It happens quickly. I am rudely sucked down into my mattress. A great white wave of static washes over me. I see my room, but hazy, as if through TV static. It’s like I’m lying in a glass casket, with just enough room to wiggle. My arms feel ironed to my sides, my torso, waterlogged. It’s not like being awake; it’s not like being asleep—it’s somewhere in between. Sometimes I hear voices humming. Sometimes I see creatures in my room.
Still, even as a six year old, I knew that demons were not REALLY hanging over my bed.
I wonder if Susan Clancy ever experienced SP. Her claims assume that her subjects can’t tell the difference between being awake and being asleep, between dreams and reality. Is her study valid, if based on a lack of confidence in the sleeper’s understanding of lucidity?