April 17, 2013

Blogging From A to Z April Challenge Day Fifteen: O is for Old Hag Syndrome

Imagine this: you are dead asleep one night when you suddenly wake up to an unseen force pushing down hard on your chest. You can barely breathe and your limbs are inoperable due to the force. You can look around the room, hear sounds and even smell odors, but you cannot utter a single word. In this state you cannot summon help, even if someone is asleep next to you! You also smell something weird or funky and might even hear heavy footsteps approaching your bed or see glowing red eyes in your room. The incident likely repeats itself frequently, maybe even a couple of times a week. The feeling usually lasts about thirty seconds or so, long enough to make you feel like you're being held underwater.

What do you do?

First of all, it's important to understand that such a phenomena has a name: old hag syndrome. Most people who suffer from the condition report feeling that a seriously evil force is present in the room. Some people who have suffered from the syndrome believe it to be from witchcraft cast on them, an evil spirit or demon attacking them or even an extraterrestrial abducting them against their will.

Old hag syndrome has been documented around the world and since ancient times, with both men and women suffering from it. In fact, some researches think that as much as fifteen percent of the population suffers from it at least once.

The scientific term for old hag syndrome is sleep paralysis. The condition occurs when a person is somewhere between REM sleep and waking up. The feeling of paralysis, medical researchers say, is from the fact that the brain largely shuts off muscle movements throughout the body while in REM sleep, which is why people who achieve REM sleep do not sleepwalk. And what about the glowing eyes, footsteps, strange smells and such? It's the brain still dreaming. There isn't concrete research on why people experience sleep paralysis, as far as I've been able to find in my research, which is why some people think it is a convenient and inaccurate explanation of a paranormal phenomena. Some researchers have found that people who are bipolar or suffer from severe anxiety are more likely to suffer from the phenomena. Some believe there is a connection between sleep paralysis and waking panic attacks in the night.

Have you ever experienced old hag syndrome or sleep paralysis? What was you experience like? Do you think it is a physiological event or something paranormal?


Juliet Bond said...

Seems like such a misnomer! Just stopping by for the A-Z Challenge. Please check us out and sign up to follow if you like what you see. Juliet atCity Muse Country Muse

Steven said...

Juliet, it seems so. The interesting thing is that medical researchers do admit that there is still much that is not understood about sleep paralysis.

BethGabb said...

Old Hag Syndrome happened to me for the very first time April 16, 2013. Now I've been in scary situations like being shot at by guerrilla fighters, watched numerous people die from horrible circumstances, swam with Great White sharks and have done extreme sports such as bungee jumping from hot air balloons and skydiving. But none of those things COMBINED have ever terrified me like that night.
I felt the pressure on me, could not move any part of my body to save my life including opening my eyes. I never experienced any smells or noises but I was hallucinating a horrible scene that I'll never forget. The way I got out of this was just holding my breath. As a nurse, I knew my brain would kick it into high gear and FORCE me to move for survival. Thank God it worked. I screamed so loud my dog freaked out and started barking and my cat growled at me (both were on my bed at the time). I'd like to think there wasn't an evil presence doing this, but I'm too superstitious to know better!
After I regained my facilities, I got on my knees and prayed. I am particaly fond of St. Philomena so I began her prayer. My animals are still going nuts, like something WAS in the room with us, but I prayed louder. They calmed down after 5minutes and then my body went limp. I summoned the strength to get back in bed and yelled out, "You are not welcome here. Stay out of my house and my mind."
I fell back asleep within minutes but not before turning on a recorder on my phone to capture if anything decided to stick around. I slept so soundly, like I had been in an Iron Man competition but woke up in the morning completely exhausted.
Here's the catch: when I played back the recording, I heard a little girl say in a clear voice, "I will always protect you. He won't be back."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't believe I ever have.
So if you're not dreaming when you sleepwalk or sleeptalk, what is going on?

Kate said...

This is so interesting. I heard something on NPR once about how this disorder might be linked to people's imagining of monsters and how the myths of them grew. Now I wish I could listen to the program over again so that I could remember the specifics. It was intriguing.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I often dream that I need to run but can't. I guess if muscles shut down during REM, that would explain why. But the sensation you describe for Old Hag Syndrome I've never experienced.

Steven said...

Beth, thank you for sharing your experience. I can imagine it's quite frightening to go through.

Alex, that's an excellent question. Personally I think the subject is little understood.

Kate, if you find that NPR broadcast send it to me.

Diane, I haven't experienced it either. Jung would have said you have worries of being unable to fulfill duties or something like that.

Julia King said...

That would terrify me. I'm glad I've never had issues with that... Knock on wood.

Steven said...

Julia, I'm glad I haven't either, but I've known people who have.

Lexie C. said...

I haven't experienced this and hope I never do! eeps.

Steven said...

Lexie, from what I've been told by several people, it is an extremely frightening experience.