As someone who has had all sorts of different sleep disorders my entire life, I can definitely empathize with folks who have them more regularly. I’m lucky that mine are fairly few and far between nowadays, but in my youth they were a constant battle.
Sleep disorders can run the gamut from common insomnia (in which one has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep), night terrors (in which the person is inconsolable and appears to be awake but is not actually fully awake and may be hallucinating and unable to hear you), sleep walking, sleep paralysis, also known as hypnagogia, (in which the mind is awake but the body cannot move). There are lots of variations of these issues including chronic nightmares and repeat nightmares. I’ve had one repeat dream about a tornado chasing me. When I finally figured out what it meant, I quit having it. The tornado to me represented something I didn’t want to face or deal with in my current life. I watched my reaction in the dreams, sometimes I’d panic and scream and put my hands over my ears, close my eyes, wishing it away. Those dreams said a lot about how I felt about myself at the time. Eventually, I recognized the tornado, wasn’t afraid of it, and lifted a manhole cover and gathered neighbors and hid down below with a great deal of calm. It showed a definite evolution in my maturity and how I handle situations and what I truly believe about my abilities at the time. There are a lot of universal repeat nightmares such as your teeth falling out (I usually have that one after the loss of a loved one because I realize my adult teeth cannot be replaced and the loss is permanent), being naked in public, taking a test in school without studying, forgetting your locker number…
My night terrors are always the same one. I see a gray face right up against mine as if someone is leaning over me and they’re only inches away and I begin thrashing, screaming hysterically, and generally freaking out. The screaming wakes me up and my heart is pounding harder than any workout and I’m trembling. The feeling is as if you’ve faced the very worst threat imaginable. This is a positively primeval state, far beyond fear and fright.
I once had an episode of hypnagogia that was really disturbing. I fell asleep in front of the TV while I had a head cold. I was laying on the floor in the living room, propped up against pillows watching a show and nodded off. During the sleep event, my eyes opened and I saw the scrolling on the TV (the credits after a show) and in my dream state, it was a warning about nuclear attack and the credits were the places we were supposed to go, the shelter listings. I couldn’t move my arms or legs and barely was able to lift my head a bit. I couldn’t open my mouth to call out and in my dream state I attributed it to fallout. I thought I had been irradiated. It was horrifying to not be able to get help or move and see the centers scrolling on the screen but not see my town listed. Somehow, I fell back into a deeper level of sleep, but the memory of those moments of feeling helpless but awake were horrifying.
I mention these kinds of sleep disturbances because as a paranormal investigator, I do often hear people reiterate stories of things that occurred in the bedroom or while going to sleep or getting up. It’s nearly impossible to sort out the genuine phenomena from the brain-induced phenomena in this setting. Sleep disorders can be so extremely real that they become part of your memories. The nuclear fallout dream/hypnagogia was so real that I feel as if I am a recovered victim from it, as if it genuinely happened. Upon occasion, I can open my eyes before I’m fully awake and see thousands of giant spiders crawling up the walls and across the ceiling. That doesn’t mean it truly happened. It means the mind is an amazing thing. Just think of how real some of your dreams are.
That being said, I also know that in the alpha state as you are drifting off to sleep, you can be extremely receptive to psychic information. You can also perhaps be in a state of mind that makes communication with the spirit world easier. So, how does one know if they’ve had a genuine encounter or something of the bedtime variety of disorder?
Welcome to my world.
As an investigator, it’s important to probe for details. Had he been asleep? Was he just nodding off? Had he awakened but laid back down again for just a few minutes before the alarm goes off?
Sometimes timing is everything. I awakened one night when my father was in the hospital to see his outline at the end of my bed, wiggling my toe as he always did when he left on a business trip or returned. It was kind of his way of checking in. Soon after, the phone rang and the hospital reported that father had passed on. This could have easily been a hypnogogic hallucination, except that I sat up in bed and was able to move. The fact that it occurred when my father died made it something more than coincidence. My eyes were open and I was able to see the levels of light in the room, feel the toe being wiggled, see the very clear black outline of my father, and could sit up in bed. That was highly unusual and more significant of an encounter, showing both correlation to an event and my ability to be awake and cognizant. I did lie back down and go to sleep when I recognized it was my father, but as I was nodding off, I did remember he was in the hospital and so I looked back up again and sat up only to find him gone. When I lied back down again and turned over, the phone rang with the news. There was a great deal of physical and mental work going on for my part, as far as reasoning, recognizing, and moving around.
How many times have you had a head cold and while you sleep you plug up and have a nightmare you’re drowning? Or you get gas pains and you dream someone is stabbing you in the abdomen? These bodily symptoms have a way of making it into dreams. Outside factors such as thunderstorms can become a battlefield in your dream state. An icy bedroom can become a trip to Alaskan tundra. The common belief that a hag could sit on your chest and suck your breath out is a classic sleep apnea (brief moments of stopping breathing) sign. The sound of your own snore can become a growling animal. Restless leg syndrome can cause unexplained bed shaking. All of these options need to be taken into consideration including whether you went to sleep having had drinks, medication, or were sickly.
In the context of researching a client’s complaints, it’s important to differentiate what parts of the house have phenomena. If things are only witnessed in the bedroom during sleep time, that’s a huge red flag. If there are other issues in the house that occasionally show themselves in the bedroom, further questioning about the consciousness of those in the bedroom is warranted. If a couple is sitting up in bed watching TV or reading books, that’s obviously a more impressive situation than if one of them is nodding off and experiences a voice in his ear. Your instincts can often tell you when to dismiss a claim and when to give it more consideration. Having a very alert and conscious witness to a phenomenon is much different than a drowsy or impaired one. It should be a part of any investigator’s tools to ask the questions when anything occurs in the bedroom or during a nap on a sofa.
If you find that a person’s experiences are relegated to bedtime, it’s a delicate situation and one that should be handled with finesse. You never want to tell a client that they might be imaging things. You do, however, want to find out if they’ve ever had sleep issues before. Educate them about sleep conditions. Folks often times don’t know others have experienced something similar. I admit that I’ve had a few nightmares involving alien grays carrying me off. I certainly don’t believe I’ve been abducted, but I know that something popular culture has infiltrated my dream state and upon occasion caused such distress when I’m overly tired that I have a night terror about it. When I went online and found others who had these experiences, I also realized that they dreamed of being naked in public, forgetting their phone number when they need to call for help, losing their teeth, et cetera. These are universal themes. A client can be comforted to know that people have been reporting them for centuries. You might help them gently to discover that if the only phenomenon is occurring at bedtime, they might not actually be haunted. That’s quite a relief for many folks to know that sleep is their issue and not something otherworldly. Sometimes, the dream themes can disappear once the person realizes why they’re having them and they no longer become a good avenue to release stress or fear or worry.
Our dream states are a blessing and a curse. They let off stream and work our demons. They inform us of how we view ourselves in relation to the world and what is going on at present, but they also make it hard to differentiate between awake and alert compared to asleep and dreaming or somewhere murky in between. Stay cautiously alert when listening to stories of hauntings and you just might be able to take a home from haunted to inhabited by regular folks with extraordinary sleep states.