Sleep Paralysis And Its Interpretation In Papua New Guinea

What I am writing here is not from any research done in PNG. It is from my own experience as a sleep paralysis sufferer, conversations with fellow sufferers and anecdotal evidence.

Have you ever had the experience where you are sleeping but can not really sleep, your mind is wondering about the day`s events or some pressing issues and after tossing and turning for an hour or two and your mind is dosing off and just at that moment this black form or figure which appears to be human in nature comes and sits on your chest. Or tries to smother you or strangulate you?

Take another scenario where you are deep in sleep and you can hear some noises, people talking or walking or some noise of some kind and you really do not want to wake up but slowly your mind is awake but your eyelids are still heavy and you are just lying there thinking whether I should wake up or not and then this black form or figure comes and sits on you or tries to strangulate you?

Sometimes instead of trying to strangulate you the black form or figure just sits at the corner of the room and stares at you! Or opens the door just enough to peep through and see you sleeping and stares at you! Or you just have the feeling of heavy presence of evil in the room! 

When all these is happening, you are trying to wake up, scream or shout or anything but your hands and feet are unable to move! You know you are awake but your limps are not moving! Well, if you have ever experienced this, it is called SLEEP PARALYSIS. The whole episode may last just a few seconds. And is sometimes associated with shivering or chills or sweating.

I suffer from sleep paralysis. The latest episode was just this week. Scientist do not know the exact cause but they think it is due to the fact that when the brain is in deep sleep (also called Rapid Eye Movement sleep) and wakes up quickly, the skeletal muscles do not respond in synchrony so the brain wakes up but the body is slow. There are different stages of sleep that the brain goes through before going into deep sleep and waking up has to follow this pattern in reverse order when waking up. The disruption of this normal pattern by jumping to waking up makes the limps go paralyze because the muscles are not ready. Eventually the nerves starts firing and you wake up screaming or shouting! 

However, what is not explained is  the presence of this black form or figure or the association between this form, which commonly has an evil presence, with limp paralysis. There has been no satisfactory explanation between the paralysis of the limps and the presences of this black figure or form. And why does it always has an evil presence and not something good?

When I first had this, I shared it with family members and friends who said it was a visitation from an evil spirit or demon. Or some curse in the family or on me. In Papua New Guinea, it is very easy to accept such explanation. And I did until this week when I decided to do some research to know this thing. People are doing studies on this phenomenon and I decided to participate in a study being conducted by a psychology professor from Canada. All I did was went to the online study site and filled out a very detailed questionnaire. I understand the value of research as I do a lot myself. I hope it may answer some of the questions and benefit other sufferers.

Commonly, in PNG culture, and I have discussed with people from the highland provinces as well from the coastal areas and the belief is the same or at least agree in principle. The interpretation of sleep paralyses in the PNG setting is that it is a visitation from Hell. Or some demon or evil spirit is trying to torment you because someone has laid a curse on you that summons these evil spirits to haunt you. Actually it is not surprising because this phenomenon was long recognized down the centuries and the interpretation has been the same. Some visitation from evil spirits. And there seem to a male and female form. The male visits females to haunt and sometimes sexually abuse them in their sleep. And the female evil spirit visits male to haunt and sexually abuse them in their sleep. Just go to Wikipedia and search for `sleep paralysis` and read what is there.

Risk factors? There are many but common ones are stress, new localities, some drugs, working shift hours, not enough sleep or poor sleeping habits, sufferers of narcolepsy and having frequent naps throughout the day.

Treatment? Drugs are rarely used unless very severe and the episodes are frequent. Otherwise improving your sleeping habits and having a good sleep hygiene tend to help.

Now that I know, I do not think there is some of visitation from hell. I might even learn to enjoy it!


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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