The spiritual meaning of Sleep Paralysis

What is the spiritual meaning of sleep paralysis?


An often difficult and occasionally traumatizing experience, sleep paralysis can affect up to 50% of people at some point in their life and 5% on a regular basis.

Different cultures offer varying explanations as to what sleep paralysis is, with theories ranging from a demonic presence, to Shamanic spells all the way through to alien abductions.

For many, it has been described as a spiritual experience with visions, insight, and messages being shared, so let’s explore what sleep paralysis is, what happens when you experience it and what it could all mean.

What is sleep paralysis?

As mentioned, it’s a surprisingly common affliction that happens when a person is in a state somewhere between being awake and being asleep and is unable to move their body whilst their mind is awake and active.

It generally happens when a person is trying to get to sleep or is waking up, and happens because while your brain is awake, your muscles aren’t yet.

Often, it can feel as though someone is in your room or pushing you down into the bed, and usually, with sleep paralysis, you will tend to drift off back to sleep relatively quickly, unlike night terrors, which do differ.

Sleep paralysis happens in a very specific stage of the sleep cycle between wakefulness and REM (rapid eye movement), and to understand more about why it can be helpful to look at what happens when dreaming.

Have you ever wondered why you don’t wake up somewhere other than your bed when you’ve been dreaming – especially if it has been a particularly active dream?

Well, it’s because the body and brain are clever enough to keep you still when you experience dreams, otherwise, you’d be thrashing and lashing out, which could cause injury. In this case, the muscles are asleep, but the mind is in a state of imagination.

Sleep paralysis happens because your body is in this same state of shutdown as if you were fully immersed in a dream, but for some reason, the brain becomes consciously active at the same time. The result? Consciousness in the body of the unconscious.

What’s the difference between sleep paralysis and nightmares?

Unlike a standard nightmare, when experiencing sleep paralysis, you are actually conscious of what’s happening – your mind is awake.

From research undertaken, it is difficult to ascertain the exact level of wakefulness, it may not be to the same level as if you were up and about in the day, and there is evidence to say that some people experience what is called a ‘false awakening,’ whereby they believe that they were awake, but were, in fact, dreaming of being awake.

With a nightmare, you are fully asleep –  a nightmare is just the same as a dream but presents negative imagery and feelings within you.

There are noticeable physiological differences between a nightmare and sleep paralysis.

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What is the history of sleep paralysis?

Hundreds of years ago, in some documentation, the ‘nightmare’ as it is known today was linked to witchcraft, with people believing that a nightmare was a spell or curse inflicted on someone by a witch.

In Mexico, the name for sleep paralysis translates to ‘“a dead body climbed on top of me” – pretty scary, huh?

This is the experience of many who suffer from sleep paralysis, as it is often described as a pressing weight on the chest, sometimes even leading to shortness of breath.

Following the 15th century, when this link between witches and nightmares was first introduced, the connection dwindled, and nightmares became more generally associated with simply bad dreams.

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Theories of sleep paralysis

As mentioned in the introduction, there are many modern theories as to what sleep paralysis is, with many believing that it does hold spiritual value.

It is most commonly attributed to a negative or evil presence, however, there are three common feelings that have been described by those who have experienced it: the presence of an evil spirit or intruder, a heavyweight on the chest, or the sense of an out-of-body experience.

This out-of-body experience is the most spiritual-leaning of all the explanations, but there is a suggested explanation for this.

The brain is a powerful organ, and much like phantom-limb syndrome in amputees, when the brain is awake but the body isn’t responding as it usually would, it tends to implant what it imagines should be happening into the mind’s eye.

So, when you’re awake, and the brain is telling your body to do something (i.e., move) and it doesn’t, this feeling of an out-of-body sensation could be down to your brain literally creating a version of you who is acting out its commands.

This would account for many of the spiritual experiences people have had, feeling as though they are being lifted out of their body or levitating.

Additionally, this could also be the explanation as to why some people believe they were abducted by aliens when in actual fact, it was their mind playing tricks on them.

As with many things that cross the physical and mental realms, for example, the meaning of seizures that we have featured on our blog previously, the research is not vast, but it is also inconclusive due to the very individual nature of the experience.

For those who have dealt with sleep paralysis, it would not be right for those who haven’t to invalidate those experiences as incorrect or wrong simply because of data gathered from sleep experts.

Experiences like this could offer, some believe, an insight into another realm that couldn’t otherwise be experienced, and although science in modern times understands a great deal about the mind and the world, it is not out of the realms of possibility to imagine that such experiences that merge the physical and mental and cross the bounds of conscious and unconscious, could very well be the key to learning more about the Universe around us.

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1 thought on “The spiritual meaning of Sleep Paralysis”

  1. Wow finally I have an answer to this which has plagued me quite a bit in my life!!! It happened more when I was younger & through to my late teens! A lot less as a full fledged adult but does happen-I panic a lot less now & quiet my brain to get out of it! Wonders never cease; reading is really fundamental!!
    Thank you for this:))


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