Sleeping With Demons: Life With Recurrent Sleep Paralysis With Hallucinations

It is 2 a.m., and you suddenly wake up. You hear whispers—malevolent murmurs—and feel a cold pressure on your chest. Peering down, you see a woman dressed in a tattered, white dress sitting on top of you. Her eyes are sunken, her skin is grey, and her lips are gone. Her corpse-like hands reach out towards you, and you scream, but nothing comes out. You try moving your arms, your legs, and your head, anything, but your body does not comply. It is paralyzed as you live this waking nightmare.

Luckily, this will probably be the first and last time you will ever experience this, and when you wake up again, it will just be another terrifying—albeit unusual—nightmare.

For Ming Kwong, a twenty-one-year-old student at University of California, Davis, however, this is her story and her continuous reality. For the past two years, she has experienced what is known as recurrent sleep paralysis, a terrifying case of parasomnia in which your body is unable to move as you fall asleep or awaken.

Most people experience at least one or two episodes in their lifetime, often dismissing them as normal nightmares. However, about 7.6% of the general population experiences recurring cases of sleep paralysis with Ming being part of that percentage.

In her case, her episodes are also filled with hallucinations of demonic figures, floating apparitions, and disembodied hands choking her.

“It’s like a nightmare happening in your own room,” she says as we sit in her horseshoe kitchen while she prepares a bowl of ramen and tater tots. A frown appears on her face as she adjusts her purple-rimmed glasses. “You don’t have to watch horror movies anymore, because you have it in your own bedroom.”

Each week when it first began, she experienced two to three episodes often filled with horrific images and feelings of dread. As a result, anxiety soon surfaced, making way for insomnia. And for all of you insomniacs, you know exactly how draining it can be.

For Ming, a good night means going to sleep at 2 a.m. A bad night means going to sleep at 5 a.m. Sleep paralysis, sleep hallucinations, anxiety, and insomnia are all invisible to the eye, yet they affect nearly every aspect of her day-to-day life. With her large smile, good grades, and job as a chemistry tutor and lab assistant, you wouldn’t be able to guess that her nights are anything but usual.

When she shares her story with people, she often receives strange looks, uncomfortable laughter, and sometimes shocking replies. On one occasion, a girl in her inorganic chemistry class claimed that she had the devil in her and would go to hell if she didn’t get help from Jesus. Even her own mother believes she is inflicted by a demon, giving her a tiny amulet for protection.

In her kitchen, with the sound of her roommate’s rabbits scurrying around in their cage, she shakes her head as she recalls those incidents. “I’m not possessed by the devil,” she says and laughs bitterly. “I’m not going to hell. Or maybe I am.”

After these encounters, along with several others, it is no wonder that she feels frustrated and helpless as she questions the validity of her own experiences. Who wouldn’t in her position?

Even encounters with her health care providers have made her question whether there is anyone who can help and support her. Upon her first visit to her primary care physician during which she was officially diagnosed with sleep paralysis, her physician essentially told her that there was no cure, adding, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just don’t stress out.”

“At the moment, it was like don’t say that,” Ming says, her voice breaking as her eyes turned glassy with unshed tears. “It is like telling broke people not to be broke or telling disabled people not to be disabled. If I could sleep, I would.”

Following that initial consultation were a series of additional visits and calls to other psychologists, advice nurses, and even an urgent care psychologist. “I was running on two hours of sleep at that point and was desperate,” she says. Yet, no one could help her, and she was passed on to the next person.

With the lack of research and understanding about the causes of sleep paralysis, people often dismiss it as a bad case of sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping patterns. You will even find physicians and psychologists simply recommending more sleep and over-the-counter sleeping aids.

After all, if bad sleep hygiene is the issue, that should work, right? Wrong. For Ming, her boxes of MidNite Sleep Supplements and Unisom Sleep Gels, both decorated with blue, starry night backgrounds, are further evidence that there is no real treatment for her.

“It sucks,” she says. “I just wish people would understand.” However, with health professionals passing her around from one provider to the next and classmates saying she is possessed by demons, true understanding and adequate care seem to be a distant notion—something imaginary.

3 followers

As a senior at UC Davis pursuing a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior and a Professional Writing minor, I am also a peer advisor and a program coordinator for our Health Professions Advising Center. Through my roles, I meet and work with many students and organizations through advising, putting on workshops and special events, such as the UCD Pre-Health Conference, and creating material for students to use. I love working with people, along with reading, writing, and trying new things.

Want to start sharing your mind and have your voice heard?

Join our community of awesome contributing writers and start publishing now.

LEARN MORE


ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

Sleeping With Demons: Life With Recurrent Sleep Paralysis With Hallucinations

It is 2 a.m., and you suddenly wake up. You hear whispers—malevolent murmurs—and feel a cold pressure on your chest. Peering down, you see a woman dressed in a tattered, white dress sitting on top of you. Her eyes are sunken, her skin is grey, and her lips are gone. Her corpse-like hands reach out towards you, and you scream, but nothing comes out. You try moving your arms, your legs, and your head, anything, but your body does not comply. It is paralyzed as you live this waking nightmare.

Luckily, this will probably be the first and last time you will ever experience this, and when you wake up again, it will just be another terrifying—albeit unusual—nightmare.

For Ming Kwong, a twenty-one-year-old student at University of California, Davis, however, this is her story and her continuous reality. For the past two years, she has experienced what is known as recurrent sleep paralysis, a terrifying case of parasomnia in which your body is unable to move as you fall asleep or awaken.

Most people experience at least one or two episodes in their lifetime, often dismissing them as normal nightmares. However, about 7.6% of the general population experiences recurring cases of sleep paralysis with Ming being part of that percentage.

In her case, her episodes are also filled with hallucinations of demonic figures, floating apparitions, and disembodied hands choking her.

“It’s like a nightmare happening in your own room,” she says as we sit in her horseshoe kitchen while she prepares a bowl of ramen and tater tots. A frown appears on her face as she adjusts her purple-rimmed glasses. “You don’t have to watch horror movies anymore, because you have it in your own bedroom.”

Each week when it first began, she experienced two to three episodes often filled with horrific images and feelings of dread. As a result, anxiety soon surfaced, making way for insomnia. And for all of you insomniacs, you know exactly how draining it can be.

For Ming, a good night means going to sleep at 2 a.m. A bad night means going to sleep at 5 a.m. Sleep paralysis, sleep hallucinations, anxiety, and insomnia are all invisible to the eye, yet they affect nearly every aspect of her day-to-day life. With her large smile, good grades, and job as a chemistry tutor and lab assistant, you wouldn’t be able to guess that her nights are anything but usual.

When she shares her story with people, she often receives strange looks, uncomfortable laughter, and sometimes shocking replies. On one occasion, a girl in her inorganic chemistry class claimed that she had the devil in her and would go to hell if she didn’t get help from Jesus. Even her own mother believes she is inflicted by a demon, giving her a tiny amulet for protection.

In her kitchen, with the sound of her roommate’s rabbits scurrying around in their cage, she shakes her head as she recalls those incidents. “I’m not possessed by the devil,” she says and laughs bitterly. “I’m not going to hell. Or maybe I am.”

After these encounters, along with several others, it is no wonder that she feels frustrated and helpless as she questions the validity of her own experiences. Who wouldn’t in her position?

Even encounters with her health care providers have made her question whether there is anyone who can help and support her. Upon her first visit to her primary care physician during which she was officially diagnosed with sleep paralysis, her physician essentially told her that there was no cure, adding, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just don’t stress out.”

“At the moment, it was like don’t say that,” Ming says, her voice breaking as her eyes turned glassy with unshed tears. “It is like telling broke people not to be broke or telling disabled people not to be disabled. If I could sleep, I would.”

Following that initial consultation were a series of additional visits and calls to other psychologists, advice nurses, and even an urgent care psychologist. “I was running on two hours of sleep at that point and was desperate,” she says. Yet, no one could help her, and she was passed on to the next person.

With the lack of research and understanding about the causes of sleep paralysis, people often dismiss it as a bad case of sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping patterns. You will even find physicians and psychologists simply recommending more sleep and over-the-counter sleeping aids.

After all, if bad sleep hygiene is the issue, that should work, right? Wrong. For Ming, her boxes of MidNite Sleep Supplements and Unisom Sleep Gels, both decorated with blue, starry night backgrounds, are further evidence that there is no real treatment for her.

“It sucks,” she says. “I just wish people would understand.” However, with health professionals passing her around from one provider to the next and classmates saying she is possessed by demons, true understanding and adequate care seem to be a distant notion—something imaginary.

Scroll to top

Follow Us on Facebook - Stay Engaged!

Send this to a friend