Night Visitors, Alien Abduction and Sleep Paralysis


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How a weird but common malfunction of the transition between sleeping and waking states may be responsible for terrifying experiences - from myths of demonic visitations to modern accounts of alien encounters.

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Night Visitors, Alien Abduction and Sleep Paralysis

  1. 1. Beyond the Wall of Sleep:Night visitors, alien abductions and sleep paralysis.
  2. 2. Alien Abduction • Covers a wide range of scenarios/experiences eg: • Betty and Barney Hill (1961) • Travis Walton (1975) (very atypical) • Whitley Streiber (‘Communion’ pub 1987) (much more typical) • Clearly not all abduction experiences can be explained by sleep phenomena. But...
  3. 3. There is a specific (and relatively common) form of Abduction experience: Night Visitors
  4. 4. Hypnotic Regression• Budd Hopkins, Prof John Mack et al.• “The problem with hypnotic regression is you get pretty much what you expect to get. If you go into a session expecting to recover memories of alien abduction thats most likely what youre going to get. If you go in thinking youre going to recover past life memories of being Mary Queen of Scots, then thats what youll get.” - Prof Chris French (Goldsmiths College, London) in Niall Boyce The psychiatrist who wanted to believe, The Lancet, vol 380, issue 9848, Sept 2012)• If you discount (for sake of argument) what was recalled under hypnosis, what are you left with? – What was the original anomalous experience?...
  5. 5. Sleep Paralysis• “Sleep paralysis is a condition in which someone, most often lying in a supine position, about to drop off to sleep, or just upon waking from sleep realizes that s/he is unable to move, or speak, or cry out. This may last a few seconds or several moments, occasionally longer. People frequently report feeling a ‘presence’ that is often described as malevolent, threatening, or evil. An intense sense of dread and terror is very common.” – James Allan Cheyne, University of Waterloo, Canada
  6. 6. • “The presence is likely to be vaguely felt or sensed just out of sight but thought to be watching or monitoring the victim, often with intense interest, sometimes standing by, or sitting on, the bed. On some occasions the presence will seem to attack, sometimes strangling the victim while kneeling and exerting crushing pressure on the chest.”• “Victims also report auditory, visual, proprioceptive, and tactile hallucinations, as well as floating sensations and out-of-body experiences. People frequently try, unsuccessfully, to cry out. After seconds or minutes one feels suddenly released from the paralysis, but will be left with a lingering anxiety” (Cheyne et al., 1996; Cheyne & Girard, 2007ab, 2009; Hishikawa, 1976; Hufford, 1982).
  7. 7. Some “fUn” Facts About SP*• The release of hormones during REM paralyse the body to stop it acting out the contents of the dream. In rare cases they are still suppressing the body’s motor functions when the sleeper has awakened.• In still rarer cases, the phenomenon is accompanied by sometimes horrifying hallucinations.• As much as 40 per cent of the population has had such an experience at least once. *Facts not guaranteed to be“fUn”
  8. 8. • Occurs either when falling asleep (hypnagogic) or awakening (hypnopompic). Either the person remains aware while the body shuts down for REM sleep or becomes aware before the REM cycle is complete.• ISP (Isolated Sleep Paralysis) - may only happen once or twice in a lifetime, usually short duration (about 1 minute).• RISP (Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis) - a chronic condition which recurs, sometimes multiple episodes in the same night. Tends to be longer (can last up to 1 hour) and more likely to include out of body experiences.• Common in those suffering from narcolepsy.• Just as common for males as it is for females.• Onset most common in adolescence.
  9. 9. Sleep and Dreaming• Stage 1 - Light sleep. Lose muscle tone, causing twitches and hypnic jerks (suddenly jumping awake from a doze). H ypnagogic hallucinations, swirling light and color patterns.• Stage 2 - A light, dreamless sleep. Loss of nearly all muscle tone (sleep paralysis). Brainwaves slowed further, but with brief bursts of higher activity called sleep spindles. You spend around half of all your sleep in Stage 2.• Stage 3 - Deep sleep or Slow Wave Sleep. Hard to wake, and if do feel dopey and confused. Brainwaves slow to slowest frequency. Mostly dreamless but, also most likely time for sleepwalking to occur.• Stage 4 - As three but sustained Slow Wave Sleep. Replenishes energy, without this will not feel refreshed.• REM Sleep - Or “paradoxical sleep”. The onset of dreaming. Brainwave activity returns to high frequency. Important to healthy brain functioning, including the creation of long-term memories. Where lucid dreaming occurs.
  10. 10. Hypnogogia• In the hypnagogic state, visions, voices, weird insights and unusual sensations greet us as we drift out of consciousness. Faces may appear, threatening or comical. A landscape may open up, with distant mountains and wide, expansive vistas. Geometric forms, jewels, diamonds and intricate patterns may dance before our mind’s eye, not unlike those seen under the influence of certain psychoactive substances. Splashes of colour, flares, sparks and cloud-like forms-known as ‘entoptic lights’, ‘phosphenes’ or eigenlicht, may drift through our drowsing consciousness, accompanied by strange, nonsensical sentences announcing portentous truths. We may feel we are floating, or that our body has grown to enormous proportions, or that we have suddenly grasped the answer to the riddle of the Universe. (Gary Lachman FT Oct 2002)
  11. 11. A Brief History of SP Study• 1876 - American Civil War surgeon and neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell reports “night palsy” in which soldiers report a temporary but terrifying nocturnal paralysis.• 1928 - The term “sleep paralysis” was coined by Samuel Wilson.• 1960s-70s - William Dement in the US and Yasuo Hishikawa in Japan began to describe the frightening experiences that sometimes accompanied sleep in narcolepsy patients.• 1967 - Psychiatrist Sim Liddon notes SP with hypnagogic experiences or hallucinations appeared to be the same phenomenon described as “the nightmare” by writers in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century. Also draws parallels with world-wide accounts of witch, demon, and spirit attacks during sleep.• 1970s-1980s - Anthropological and folkloric studies of David Hufford, Robert Ness, and others note similarities between the nocturnal “old hag” attacks of Newfoundland, as well as accounts of spirit and ghost attacks from around the world.• 1990s - Cheyne and colleagues began systematically recording the structure of SP experiences and comparing them with REM-state dreaming, finding a clear match.
  12. 12. • “Although many people certainly do report elaborate narrative scenarios of threatening intruders and violent assault, much more common are fragmented sensations with no obvious narrative organization.”• “In many if not most cases, paralysis may be accompanied by no more than a few odd sounds, perhaps buzzing or humming, or whispering voices, or simply a strong feeling of something present in the room.”• “The most emotional dreams are nightmares and, particularly, the hypnagogic nightmares accompanying sleep paralysis. When we attempt to assess the level of fear experienced during hypnagogic experiences accompanying SP, many people tell us that fear is simply inadequate to describe their feelings – nothing in their waking lives or even conventional nightmares approaches the abject terror associated with these experiences.” - Nightmares from the Id, James Allan Cheyne
  13. 13. Possible Explanations• The menacing presence/intruder - The result of a hyper vigilant state created in the midbrain. An emergency response activates in the brain when individuals wake up paralyzed and feel vulnerable to attack. This helplessness intensifies the effects of the threat response well above the level typical to normal dreams; this could explain why hallucinations during sleep paralysis are so vivid.• The incubus/suffocating attack – A combination of the above with the muscle paralysis that removes voluntary control of breathing. Several features of REM breathing patterns exacerbate the feeling of suffocation. Attempts at breathing deeply fail, and give the individual a sense of resistance—which the threat- activated vigilance system interprets as someone sitting on their chest, suffocating them.• Out-of-body experiences/floating - Under normal conditions, centre in the brain coordinate things such as head and eye movement and orientation in space. In sleep paralysis, these mechanisms—which usually coordinate body movement and provide information on body position—activate and, because there is no actual movement, become confused and induce a floating sensation.
  14. 14. SP in History and Mythology• SP experiences are a likely source of the notion of nocturnal assaults by incubi, witches, mare, spirits, and demons and is likely the original referent for the term “nightmare“. Fuselis famous painting entitled "The Nightmare" (1871) for example, was clearly inspired by SP experiences rather than by a conventional frightening dream.
  15. 15. The "Old Hag" of Newfoundland (Firestone, 1985; Hufford, 1982; Ness, 1978).• The "Old Hag" sits on the afflicted persons chest while attempting to throttle them. The Newfoundlanders’ notion of the hag likely had its origins in the British Isles where the notion of the hag or haegtesse is related to that of witches. That the Old Hag experience was also well known during Shakespeares time is suggested by Mercutios ‘Queen Mab’ speech:• “This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,• That presses them, and learns them first to bear,• Making them women of good carriage.”• (Romeo and Juliet, I, 4)
  16. 16. • There is a clear SP account in the 1887 horror story Le Horla by Guy de Maupassant.• It tells the tale of a 19th century intellectual, in a lightly fictionalized account of Maupassant’s own experiences, who draws on diverse cultural resources, traditional and modern, to interpret a complex array of highly unusual experiences.• “I sleep—for a while—two or three hours—then a dream—no—a nightmare seizes me in its grip, I know full well that I am lying down and that I am asleep... I sense it and I know it... and I am also aware that somebody is coming up to me, looking at me, running his fingers over me, climbing on to my bed, kneeling on my chest, taking me by the throat and squeezing... squeezing... with all its might, trying to strangle me.• I struggle, but I am tied down by that dreadful feeling of helplessness that paralyzes us in our dreams. I want to cry out—but I cant. I want to move—I cant do it. I try, making terrible, strenuous efforts, gasping for breath, to turn on my side, to throw off this creature who is crushing me and choking me—but I cant!• Then, suddenly, I wake up, panic-stricken, covered in sweat. I light a candle. I am alone.” (p. 893)
  17. 17. A Handful of Myths• Ardat lili or Lilitu, an evil Sumerian spirit, is one of the earliest Hag-demons. She was capable of flying, which she preferred to do at night, at which time she frequently attacked men in their sleep. She is thought to constitute the prototype for the Hebrew Lilith and the Roman Lamia, known for their nocturnal attacks.• More European spirits with connotations of leaping upon people as they attempt to sleep at night:• Greek ephialtes (one who leaps upon), mora (the night "mare" or monster, ogre, spirit, etc.), pnigalion (the choker) and the barychnas (the heavy breather)• Roman incubus (one who presses or crushes)• German mar/mare, nachtmahr, Hexendrücken (witch pressing) and Alpdruck (elf pressure)• Czech muera• Polish zmora• Russian Kikimora• French cauchmar (trampling ogre)• Old English maere (mab, mair, mare-hag) hagge (evil spirit or the night-mare - also hegge, haegtesse, haehtisse, haegte)• Old Norse mara• Old Irish mar/more• Newfoundland Ag Rog (Old Hag)• Spanish pesadilla• Roman poet Horace makes a reference a boy who claimed that if he is killed he "will attend you as a nocturnal fury; and, a ghost, I will attack your faces with my hooked talons, and brooding upon your restless breasts, I will deprive you of repose by terror.“• St Augustine was also convinced of the reality of “incubi” demons who attacked and molested women in the night.
  18. 18. Another Handful of Myths• In St. Lucia, West Indies, an attack of kokma comes at a time that the individual is just falling asleep or just waking up. The sensations include pressure on the chest, inability to move, and anxiety. The kokma is the spirit of a dead baby that haunts an area, attacking people in their beds. They jump on the victim’s chest and clutch at the throat. The victim attempts to cry out, or in some other way to get another’s attention, someone that might scare off the kokma.• In Thailand experiences referred to as Phi um (ghost covered) and phi kau (ghost possessed) involve pressure, immobility, and something black covering the body.• In Korea, people are afflicted by ka wi nulita ("scissors pressed"), an experience felt to be brought on by fear.• In the Far North one speaks of agumangia (Inupik) or ukomiarik (Yupik) in which "a soul" tries to take possession of the paralyzed victim.• In Laos, da chor is described as follows: "You want to listen, you can’t hear; you want to speak, you are dumb; you want to call out, you cannot; you feel you are dying, dying; you want to run away. You piss with fear in your sleep" (cited in Firestone, 1985, p. 61).• Among the Hmong of Laos the nightmare spirit is referred to as dab (nightmare) tsog (evil spirit) or tsog tsuam (evil spirit who crushes, smothers, or presses upon).
  19. 19. • “ The experience... has been regularly reported for more than two thousand years; it has been attached to a variety of narrative frameworks... but regardless of the framework, the experiential features have remained basically the same.” – Hufford, 1976 Eugène Thivier, “Le Cauchemar ”(The Nightmare) (1894)John Anster Fitzgerald, “The Nightmare” (1857-58)
  20. 20. Prevention/StrategiesPossible causes include: Insomnia and sleep deprivation, an erratic sleep schedule, sleeping in the supine position, stress, overuse of stimulants, physical fatigue, as well as certain medications that are used to treat ADHD.Sleeping in the supine position is believed to make the sleeper more vulnerable to episodes of sleep paralysis. In this sleeping position it is possible for the soft palate to collapse and obstruct the airway. There is also a greater amount of pressure being exerted on the lungs by gravity.Prevention:• DO NOT SLEEP SUPINE.• Regular sleep schedule and good “sleep hygiene”.• Reduce the intake of stimulants.• Take steps to deal with stress in your life.During SP:• Making Small Movements: Attempting to move ones fingers or toes, or even ones tongue. Although the major muscles are completely paralyzed the smaller muscles, especially of the eyes, fingers and toes are less so. A number of people have been suggesting rapidly moving ones eyes back and forth as a way of bringing a bout of SP to an end. If you are having multiple or repeated experiences at one time it may help to get up briefly and move around before trying to sleep again as it is possible to have multiple episodes in a single night.• Another suggestion is to mentally project yourself moving – if your body can’t move, then let your mind – some have reported this kind of projection possible, and it may relieve the panic caused by paralysis.
  21. 21. A Return to the Night Visitors
  22. 22. • “Clearly it is not the case that all possession, alien abduction, and similar accounts are instances of SP. An alien abduction/possession account does provide, however, a relatively complete and, for some, plausible and satisfying account of that experience. Numerous descriptions of abduction experiences in the letters to Communion author Whitley Strieber, for example, are difficult to distinguish from experiences presented as accounts of SP with HHEs:• ‘Id be in bed and very much aware of my surroundings . . . Id hear music, interrupted by a mechanical type of voice, but I could never remember what was said. Id feel the mattress depress and the springs pressing down, and I knew someone had sat down beside me. But I was paralyzed, and couldnt utter a sound, swallow, or move in any way. My eyes were open, though I was always facing in the opposite direction from where "the presence" remained. I would be there about ten minutes, it seemed. (Strieber & Strieber, 1997, p. 84-85)’.” – Nightmares from the Id, James Allan Cheyne
  23. 23. ~@Sweet Dreams...@~