My sister thinks our apartment is haunted. More than once, she’s woken up to some kind of presence in her bedroom. Sometimes, she said, the ghosts would hold her down so she couldn’t move her legs and arms. As she goes to sleep, she hears whispering in her ears.
She’s not at all the kind of person to make things up. I know she isn’t lying. She really believes this is happening. I don’t think she’s crazy, but the alternative is almost as scary. Is it possible that ghosts really do exist? What else could explain this?
Dear Sophie B.:
What else could explain this?
Nah. It’s not ghosts or aliens or any of that nonsense. And your sister’s not crazy. (Well, she could be, but these experiences aren’t evidence of that.) What she’s describing is a phenomenon called sleep paralysis, with hypnagogic (occurring while falling asleep) and hypnopompic (occurring while waking up) hallucinations.
The word “hallucination” here isn’t as nutty as it sounds. Consider that all dreams are essentially hallucinations. When we are in REM sleep, our bodies (usually) are temporarily paralyzed so that we don’t physically act out what we dream we are doing physically. (Kind of a shame considering those flying guitar solo dreams I have, but there you have it.)
So sleep paralysis is essentially a dream state, but it occurs after the person has started regaining consciousness. The body is still immobile, as during REM sleep, and the person is still “hallucinating,” or dreaming. Many people experience that sense of a presence in the room, often something just out of the corner of the eye that they can’t quite focus on (and frustratingly can’t turn their heads to see). Auditory hallucinations also occur, like the voices your sister heard whispering in her ear. Tactile hallucinations, such as the feeling of being held, are also common.
The episodes in and of themselves do not appear to do any harm, but they can cause a lot of anxiety for the person experiencing them. Getting regular sleep (going to bed and waking up at the same time every night) can help in avoiding them. For some people, focusing on trying to move one small muscle, such as in a toe or a finger, can help them break the paralysis. Some evidence suggests that it’s more common when people are sleeping on their back, so your sister could try sleeping in a different position, too.
Your sister might feel better simply knowing what causes them. And it’s possible that she’ll never have this experience again. For many, it happens only once or twice in a lifetime. It occurs more commonly in people with narcolepsy, so if she has any signs of that disorder, she should definitely see a doctor.
But otherwise, hold off on the séance and the plans to get a new apartment. And if your sister doesn’t want to take a Sasquatch’s word for it, point her to this article.
I go camping a lot, and my hair is always a tangled mess within the first day. How do you handle living in the forest without your hair getting all tangled up and nasty?
First of all, that’s a pretty big assumption, that I actually live in the forest. Don’t believe all the mythology about me and my kin. It’s supposed to make us seem more Other, more wild and creature-like. I have a home (several, actually), but that’s as much as I can safely tell you.
Still, I do in fact have a problem with tangles, and for a while there, I was buying jugs of detangler at Costco just to get through the week. It’s not a huge issue when I’m just lounging about, trolling the message boards, but when I have to go out, and especially when I have to travel on business, I find that nothing quite keeps my mane in check like good old-fashioned braids. They’re perfect for camping, too. Not that I ever do that myself. I really don’t see the point in deliberately sleeping outside, on the ground, without toilet facilities, but hey, it takes all kinds, yeah?
My favorite luxury is to get micro-braids done, but OMG, this took like a month to do and cost me a fortune! I had to sell like a gajillion new photos to the tabloids just to be able to afford it. But if you have the time and the jingle, I highly recommend it.
Do you have a question for Sasquatch? Need advice? An answer to a question that’s been puzzling you? Beauty tips? Ask in the comments section or send an email to [email protected]. Skeptical Sasquatch is now on Twitter (@skeptisquatch) and Facebook.