Have you ever woken up from sleep and found yourself unable to move? As if a heavy object was resting on your chest? You had difficulty breathing, you tried to speak out but nothing came out of your throat, you began to sense something evil lurking in your room. You are most likely attacked by the Old Hag Syndrome.
The phenomenon, scientifically referred to as “sleep paralysis,” is named after a superstitious belief that a witch–or an old hag–sits on the chests of victims, making them unable to move. The incident can be frightening to those who experienced it because they are fully aware of their senses and their surrounding, yet they feel like they have no control over them. The episode ends after several seconds–or after finally being able to gain senses such as shouting out loud or moving the big toe–leaving the victims completely baffled as to what just happened. It is no wonder why the Old Hag Syndrome has been associated with being attacked by some malevolent spirit, demons, or even aliens.
The incident happens to both men and women of different ages and seems to happen at least once in a lifetime. In some countries in Asia, however, it is more common among men and even more fatal.
Galen, Greek physician living during the 2nd Century, attributed the syndrome to indigestion. Modern research, meanwhile, have also associated it with narcolepsy (a chronic sleep disorder). People who experienced sleep paralysis are most likely those who sleep in a supine position (back against the bed), suffer from increased stress, have sudden environment and lifestyle changes, have a lucid dream that immediately precedes the episode, and excessive consumption of alcohol together with lack of sleep.