Sleep paralysis is a strange and sometimes terrifying sleep disorder. When we reach the “dreaming” portion of our sleep cycle, our brains essentially shut off the ability to move. This keeps us from acting out our dreams and potentially hurting ourselves or others. However, individuals with sleep paralysis awake but their bodies remain in this paralyzed state. Many times sufferers have frightening hallucinations during this state of paralysis. Some believe they’ve been visited by demons or abducted by aliens.
When filmmaker Carla MacKinnon started experiencing sleep paralysis several times a week, she researched the subject and turned it into a short movie and multiplatform art project that explores the strange and spooky phenomenon. The film, supported by the Wellcome Trust and set to screen at the Royal College of Arts in London, will debut in May.
CBS News interviewed McKinnon about her research and her findings. Here’s an excerpt from their article about her:
One man told her about his frequent sleep paralysis episodes, during which he’d experience extremely realistic hallucinations of a young child, skipping around the bed and singing nursery rhymes. Sometimes, the child would sit on his pillow and talk to him. One night, the tot asked the man a personal question. When he refused to answer, the child transformed into a “horrendous demon,” MacKinnon said.
For another man, who had the sleep disorder narcolepsy (which can make sleep paralysis more common), his dream world clashed with the real world in a horrifying way. His sleep paralysis episodes typically included hallucinations that someone else was in his house or his room — he’d hear voices or banging around. One night, he awoke in a paralyzed state and saw a figure in his room as usual.
“He suddenly realizes something is different,” MacKinnon said. “He suddenly realizes that he is in sleep paralysis, and his eyes are open, but the person who is in the room is in his room in real life.”
The figure was no dream demon, but an actual burglar.
McKinnon says that by working on her project, she’s learned to control her sleep paralysis.