You can’t move. There’s something pressing down on you, on your chest, making it hard to breathe. The room is dark, but the darkness has a razor edge, not merely a shadow but something malicious. Then you see the shivering little child in the corner of the bedroom. At the same time, the child sees you. You try to scream, but all you can manage is a choked, terrified whisper as the child starts crawling toward you in the dark.
It’s estimated that around 40 percent of the population has experienced sleep paralysis. Modern research into the phenomenon agrees that sleep paralysis is most likely caused when a person wakes suddenly from rapid eye movement (REM), a sleep stage in which the body is essentially paralyzed to prevent it from acting out dreams. But all the science in the world can’t make it easier to deal with a nightmare unfolding before your open eyes.
The following stories come from a range of sources, from research studies to unverified user-submitted posts on questionable websites. Are they real? No more real than any dream, perhaps, but fact or fiction, there was a brief moment in time when someone actually watched them happen and believed that the terrifying creatures of the night were slinking closer through the dark.
10Turn Off The Light
This story comes from a student known only as Adam who experienced sleep paralysis one night when he fell asleep reading a book. The last thing he remembered was slowly falling asleep with the book in his hands and the muffled sounds of the television coming from the living room downstairs. When he came to, the room looked exactly the same. The bedside lamp was still lit, and the book was lying on his chest, but the entire room had grown frigid.
With the cold air came the feeling that someone was watching him, although the room was empty. But when he tried to look around, Adam realized that he couldn’t move. His hands were as heavy as stone; his legs, stretched out over the blanket, might as well have belonged to a mannequin. And just when the feeling that someone he couldn’t see was in the room with him grew strongest, the bedside lamp switched off with a quiet click.
He couldn’t scream. Every muscle was paralyzed. And out of the darkness floated the figure of an old man with no eyes, just dark, empty sockets pouring out blood. Unprovoked, the old man flew into a rage, shouting and grabbing at Adam’s legs. As a chilling footnote, when he woke up, Adam realized that the old man had been his grandfather.
9The Dreamscapes Of Nicolas Bruno
Nicolas Bruno has experienced sleep paralysis since he was a teenager, and for most of his life he dealt with it the way most people do: He just ignored it and hoped it would eventually stop. When the waking nightmares kept occurring night after night, Bruno decided to start a sleep paralysis journal to document what he saw.
As he told io9, the visions ranged from the surreal to the terrifying. “Faceless silhouetted figures, embraces from shadow-like hands, warping of reality around me—all while [feeling] completely paralyzed.” These are descriptions of something that millions of people experience every year, but Bruno wanted to go further with the imagery than words ever could. So he began to recreate his experiences through photography.
Like the dreams themselves, Bruno’s photographs careen from bizarre to downright horror, but they all beautifully convey the crushing vein of hopelessness and isolation that runs at the core of sleep paralysis.
8Gremlin On The Ceiling
It starts with a little green creature hiding in the shadows, and it doesn’t end until you wake up screaming, over and over again. That’s what a Reddit user claimed to experience every time she had sleep paralysis, and the creature was always the same.
She describes it as a “gremlin type creature that’s got pointy features and is a browny green color,” then goes on to point out that it looks similar to the now-familiar critter in Johann Heinrich Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare. Most of the time, she says, it sits on her chest and whispers in a language she doesn’t understand.
But that’s only most of the time. Once, she says she woke up as the gremlin was crouching on the ceiling. As soon as she saw it, it swiveled its head toward her and smiled. Another time, it was on the bed behind her, whispering the same language, and she only woke up when she felt his tongue on her ear. A lot of people in that situation would ascribe the experience to something supernatural, but she at least understands that it’s all in her head, no matter how terrifying it feels.
Psychologists have linked all kinds of disorders to the onset of sleep paralysis, and alcoholism is one of the triggers that supposedly makes a person more likely to experience it. In one documented case, an anonymous 35-year-old man who’d spent years battling alcoholism began to develop almost nightly recurrences featuring the same creepy hallucination.
It would start with him waking up in the middle of the night, unable to move any part of his body. As he lay there in the dark, he’d become aware of a woman standing beside his bed. It was the same woman every time, and as the dreams progressed, she’d get more violent. With him helpless to resist, she’d jump on top of him and start choking him while telling him that she was going to murder him. Each incident could go on for as long as five minutes, and afterward, the man was never able to fall asleep again. The attacks got so bad that the recovering alcoholic started drinking again to deal with the anxiety he felt about falling asleep.
6Can You See Me?
Children are creepy. Even if you have kids—especially if you have kids—there’s something about the thought of a deranged, killer child that sends a chill up your spine. Even the mere imagery is unsettling. Just imagine a young boy standing in a dark hallway with blank eyes and a serrated hunting knife clutched in his tiny fist. And this story, which was shared on Reddit, is the distillate of everything we think we have to fear about paranormal progeny.
The submitter says that he has sleep paralysis a lot, as often as a few times a week, but there was only one event that made him terrified to go to sleep. He was in bed with his eyes closed when he heard a young boy’s voice ask him, “Can you see me?” He was used to sleep paralysis, so he wasn’t surprised when he found that he couldn’t move any part of his body except his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he saw a little boy watching him sleep from the foot of his bed.
The boy asked the same question again, and the submitter says that he closed his eyes and tried to force himself awake. Even though he knows that it’s a dream, it’s the most real hallucination he’s ever seen. While his eyes were closed, the little boy kept asking, “Can you see me?” And each time he said it, his voice got deeper. Then, the submitter felt something brush across his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to see the kid inches from his face. In a deep, guttural voice, the boy screamed, “Can you see me?” That’s when the submitter woke up, deeply shaken by the experience.
5The Little Humanoid
This story was submitted to a strange little website called Alien Resistance in 2013. The submitter is a man who only identifies himself by the name “Rich,” and he says that he started experiencing sleep paralysis when he was only 12 years old. He claims that he woke up one night unable to move, but he could see his bedroom clearly. As he lay there paralyzed, his bedroom door creaked open and a little man stepped inside. Rich describes him as a “small human-like creature,” about 30 centimeters (12 in) tall.
The little man looked at Rich, then suddenly leaped up onto the bed and ran across Rich’s body toward his face. As soon as he reached Rich’s head, the humanoid disappeared. That was the first night Rich remembers having sleep paralysis, but it wasn’t the last. He continued having similar experiences into adulthood, most of them characterized by an “evil presence” coming into his room at night.
Rich’s story ends with him digging into the mystery and coming to the personal realization that the attacks were being caused by demons, which is probably to be expected considering the website he finally turned to. He claims that the only way he was able to make the attacks stop was to shout Jesus’s name every time he felt one coming on.
4A Skeleton With Claws
The submitter of this story says that he experienced sleep paralysis for around 18 months, and he usually had the typical sense of shadowy figures standing around his room. But two strikingly different experiences stood out from the rest. The first one started like a typical paralysis story but quickly devolved into a nightmare of hellish proportions.
As he relates it, he was lying on his side facing away from his bedroom door when he felt the covers shift like somebody was lifting them up. Then, he felt something crawl into bed behind him. The unknown creature—he couldn’t turn to see what it was—slid its arm around his waist, and he felt something breathing on his neck. He described it as feeling like he was being “cuddled by a skeleton with claws.” Heart hammering, muscles unresponsive, he could only lie there while the thing slowly breathed behind him. Finally, it whispered, “Not yet. You’re not ready yet. I’ll come back when you are,” and left.
The second story he relates is surprisingly uplifting. He felt the usual signs that sleep paralysis was coming on, but instead of a monster, there was a kindly old man kneeling beside his bed. The man smiled at him but remained silent, and the submitter says he got the feeling that the man was trying to tell him that things would be all right.
In 2002, a study looked into the relationship between sleep paralysis and stories of alien abduction. They found that an overwhelming 60 percent of people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens were either sleeping at the time or had just woken up. A later study conducted in 2005 by Richard McNally and Susan Clancy looked into the same relationship. During the course of the study, they conducted interviews of the alleged abductees and came out with some pretty creepy stories.
One of the people they interviewed was a woman who told the researchers how she woke up from a deep sleep to find herself paralyzed. Terrified by what was happening with her body, she managed to open her eyes. At the foot of her bed were three “beings” staring down at her.
Another account from the same study came from a man who woke up under similar conditions, but he saw alien creatures all around his bed. He said that he felt like they were draining his energy, and he could feel surges of electricity being sent through his body.
How do you film something that exists only in your mind? Short answer: You can’t. But that’s never stopped anyone from making a creepy video, and it certainly didn’t stop Mike Pike. Mike’s story comes from Conspiracy Club, a website specializing in alarmist conspiracy rhetoric. Take the video above with a grain of salt . . . but maybe don’t watch it at night, either.
Mike says that he’s often the victim of sleep paralysis, and it’s usually the same scenario. He’s in bed at night, half asleep, when he gets the unmistakable feeling that there’s someone else in the room with him. That’s when he notices the dark, shadowy figure hanging over the foot of his bed.
Terrified by the recurring vision, Mike decided to set up a video camera one night to convince himself that it was all in his head. It didn’t help. According to his story, when he looked at the footage, he found that the shadowy figure was still there. According to Conspiracy Club, Mike says that the video “terrifies [him] so much that [he] can no longer sleep in [his] room.”
In 2014, a Reddit user named “watchtowerwolf” responded to a thread with an experience that he often has with sleep paralysis. Usually, he understands what’s happening and tries to jolt himself out of it before anything happens, but he doesn’t always get lucky.
The experience invariably starts out with a shadow that slowly climbs the wall beside his bed. The air fills with the pulse of electronic static, a common auditory hallucination that reportedly sounds something like this. With the static, the shadow begins to coalesce into a tall, freakishly thin man with no face. Its only features are little balls of television static where its eyes should be. The man then moves closer. With every step, the static sound in the air gets louder.
The man walks right up to watchtowerwolf, grabs the sides of his head, and screams into his face. As soon as that happens, the room turns red and the man’s arms transform into spikes, which the man rubs over his face and neck, as if taunting him. Then, without warning, the man stabs one of the spikes into the submitter’s throat, and he wakes up.