Reflections on Sleep Paralysis

I have experienced such a diversity of dreams, dream patterns, and dream states to the point where I’m not sure there’s anything I haven’t experienced yet. I’ve had all sorts of regularly vivid dreams, lucid dreams, oddly conscious yet seeming otherworldly dreams… and I have also have had two episodes of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis, if you don’t know, is being conscious but being unable to move when you’re emerging from sleep. It can last for minutes or seconds. Thankfully, mine have only been at most half of a minute long. Through desensitization via horror movies, what would be nightmares for most are often complacent dreams that I use for inspiration for my stories. However, in these two cases, the stories became my paralysis.

The first experience I had was when I was in my senior year of high school. I woke up on my back with my arms by my sides, unable to move. I never sleep like that: it’s almost always on my right side, sometimes my left. In the dark of the room with the hallway light leaking in, I could feel, and see, my covers moving as something small crawled up my legs until its face peered out from under the covers. It was all black, and it looked like a demon crossbred with a Gremlin, without the fur. It had beady little black eyes that had some of the light reflecting off of them. It smiled, revealing pin-like teeth. It sat on my chest and stared me down.


Here’s what it looked like, a rough-sketch at least. Sort of cute if I wasn’t seeing a hyper-realistic version of it inches from my face.

It was that moment I knew I was experiencing sleep paralysis: that entire display was my biggest irrational fear. For some unknown reason since I was young, I feared a gnome-like creature crawling up from my feet at the end of the bed and over me if I slept on my back. It would’ve left me open for their attack or anything they wanted. I knew, in that moment, there was nothing I could do, because I couldn’t move. I stared it down. I wasn’t scared. I know, that sounds a bit pretentious, but I was more intrigued than anything else. I held its eye contact for the next couple of seconds before I fell back asleep. My fear response is usually intrigue, which I feel like puts me in the role of the dumb protagonist that investigates the clattering sound from the kitchen in the middle of the night.

The other time I had a sleep paralysis episode was last year, my second year of college. I had woken up on my back again, this time with my body pressed against the wall. It was some random time in the morning where the sun was up. Despite the fact I had my poster up next to me, I was able to see a gnarly silhouette of a face that I can only describe as a cross between Scrooge and the Night King. It was close to my face, and despite being two dimensional, I could guess the texture of its face. It opened its jaws and with a bony finger —of which I’m not sure where it came from— it pointed at me and said, “I’ll find you soon.” This was the only auditory part of the sleep paralysis events I’ve had. This episode was enough to scare me; the vague threat was what did it.

This creature was also reminiscent of something from my childhood. While I have no pictures of it, it was almost identical to this villain my friends and I created for our playing pretend games in elementary school. He could manipulate shadows and travel by sinking into the ground into a shadow and slinking around on the ground and walls. He could also possess you that way, according to our lure. I hadn’t thought of him in years.

I find it interesting that my brain dug into my childhood in order to try to instill fear in me. I can’t even remember how far the gnome thing goes back. I’ve gotten so many more fears since childhood —isn’t that a part of growing up?— and more raw, grisly ones. Yet it didn’t choose to put an alien trying to dissect me or some demonic rapist, it chose things that’ve been around for longer than my present self has.

I guess it chose to do something more intimate, something closer to me. I suppose in this case, my biggest fear would be my own brain. I wonder how it’d choose to portray that. And how I could make a story out of it. If I have to suffer from the condition another time, I may as well make it just as useful and productive as the rest of my sleeping habits.