Sleep and the Paranormal
by freelance writer Jane Henderson.
Up to 20% of people have had an out-of-body experience in their lifetime. While most people would attribute this to side effects of medication or other altered states, the idea that sleep is tied to the paranormal has been around for centuries. Whether this relates to sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming or astral projection, people of all different cultures from all different time periods have thought they could commune with the dead or unseen via a sleep or sleep-like state.
Controlling Your Dreams
Possibly the most common of paranormal experiences in a somnolent state is lucid dreaming. This is simply described as “the process of being aware that one is sleeping.” However, it is useful to add that these dreams usually occur on their own, rather than with human interference or guidance. Essentially, you “wake” in a dream with the knowledge that you are dreaming. Like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, in a lucid dream, you are conscious and able to make decisions. Some people are also able to control aspects of their dreams, like changing the flavour of something they’re eating, what they’re wearing, or features of the landscape. Generally, since you’re aware of the dream, you can do impossible things as well — like flying, or walking through walls, much like a ghost.
This brings us to astral projection. It’s similar to lucid dreaming, but differs in a few ways: intent, ability, and control of those around you. Much like the superpowers of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, astral projection deals with pulling your spiritual body from your physical one by choice. There are various techniques to achieve this. Most importantly, you must be extremely relaxed, in a near sleep state, but still mentally aware of both your body and its surroundings. After this, there are several ways to visualise being pulled out of your body, many of which result in hearing a loud vibration or humming noise, along with dizziness or pressure in your head: but fear not, this is completely normal and to be expected when travelling to the astral plane.
Who Lives In The Astral Plane?
Think of this as a separate realm, identical to your own, but with changes to the rules and how things work. For example, you may be able to walk through solid surfaces, float or even fly — but you cannot control the environment. Some people have also reported seeing other beings or entities when in the astral plane, beings that they wouldn’t be able to communicate with otherwise. Many people believe that ghosts are actually astral projections of other people, or spirits “leaking” into our realm. Because both projections and ghosts are seen in spirit form, it is hard to differentiate between the two — however, ghosts are more often viewed as residual energy stuck in a loop, and astral projectors have control over their whereabouts. Nevertheless, both are part of a paranormal realm.
Yet another similar occurrence is sleep paralysis — except, for this, your spirit is aware of your surroundings and what is happening, but your body (both spiritual and physical) cannot move. Sleep paralysis has long been considered to be the work of the paranormal, most specifically, extraterrestrials and demons. Many people who experience this report feeling a presence watching them, or even in their bed, the latter often due to pressure felt on the chest and legs. This is the type of experience used in horror movie tropes, where a protagonist wakes from a dream and sees an entity (usually malevolent), and cannot move, scream, or otherwise act against it. Though it is indeed terrifying in movies, it is even more so in real life, and can cause anxiety.
It is not surprising that sleep is associated with the paranormal, as humans have feared the dark and the unknown since the beginning of time — and because both sleep and death are unconscious states, they were frequently mistaken for one another before technology could determine which it was. Sceptics and believers alike can experience these oddities when they’re relaxed and nearly asleep. Generally, your opinion of what happened is determined by how much you know about the supernatural. So now that you’ve read this… sweet dreams.