Slaying the night demon

August 2014

By Punya Srivastava

One of the most chilling experiences one can face is to wake up and find yourself paralyzed, says Punya Srivastava. Fortunately, sleep paralysis is momentary, and  there are measures to manage it.

It first happened three years back. One night, I started out of my sleep only to find my body paralysed. I broke into a sweat upon realising that I was unable to even open my eyes or move my limbs. I could feel a heavy load on my chest, and suddenly I heard someone breathe into my face. Pure horror gripped me, and I panicked. I wanted to scream my lungs out but couldn’t. I tried to open my eyes but in vain. Still, even with closed eyes, I could see the entire room before me. I unsuccessfully tried to turn my face sideways. The whole ordeal lasted for around 30 seconds but felt like hours. I was too scared to fall asleep again. That was my first terrifying tryst with sleep paralysis.

sleeping paralysis

Since then, I have had a few more instances of the condition, and I remember each one of them vividly. Once, I felt like someone was strangling me to death while I lay paralysed trying to shout out in vain. Another time, I felt a horror so intense that I could feel the fear tingling in my spine rising upto my chest, as I sensed a sinister shadow by my bed staring down at me. The last time I went through sleep paralysis was three months back when I woke up with a jerk to find myself paralysed as usual, and looking straight into a hooded shadow with raised hands, ready to strike me dead. None of these were nightmares, for I was mentally awake.

No horror movie, no matter how well crafted, has been capable of arousing the intense horror these episodes did. Sleep paralysis is one of the worst experiences to happen to anyone. The feeling of a chest-crushing load restricting your breath as you lie immobile and helpless is nerve-wracking. Add to that the sense of a malevolent presence in your room, and the wonder is that I am still alive to tell the tale! Apart from the problem, its aftermath is also troubling. For a few nights thereafter, the exhaustion would send irresistible waves of sleep crashing through my system, but intense fear would keep me awake.

The most interesting part is that around 50 per cent of humanity experiences this at least once in their lives.

What is it?

Sleep paralysis usually occurs when a person is either going to fall asleep or about to wake up, before which the person enters the
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