Monday, April 27, 2009

Sleep Disorders and Paranormal Encounters

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.


  1. Fantastic article as always Autumn!!-BTW-congrats also on the followers of your blog-it seems like every time I come over here almost there is a new one! I have had the "tornado chasing me" dream before -although with those my mind never lets me know the ending! I have also had sleep problems my whole life-it used to be insomnia combined with eating at night/early am which is a huge no-no as far as weight goes-well I still have the insomnia -but the weight prob and eating is gone-In since you have had this your whole life as well I wanted to ask you-I am only 44-and maybe it is because I do not know anyone from my High School days anymore-but I tell you those memories and previous ones to that are starting to seem "flat"-almost like they happened to someone else-do you ever notice memory type probs or where it memories just seem off? I am just asking because the High School days for most Americans-it seems to me are years either of fun or misery-either one-but they are usually remembered in great detail. I was wondering if it is my memory probs that are causing this to happen to me? Other dream like the ones with my grandmother still contain a great deal of emotion-but it concerns me that these other memories are starting to seem so vague-I am famous for asking questions on blogs and forgetting to come back and answer them so I am making a note to come back to this post-I may miss a day of being online due to a Drs appt but I will come back and see if you or others have thoughts on this-sorry to ramble so much-again my sleep cycle is wacked and I just got up a bit ago after being awake all through the night-best as always and thanks for your fantastic blog!!

  2. I have had trouble sleeping before, but you just scared the daylights out of me. LOL jk Years ago after a divorce i had horrible nightmares, but eventually they stopped. I also have had the falling nightmare and have cried in my sleep, knowing i was crying. I am talking many years ago. When a friend of our family killed his son and then commited suicide i woke up that morning in the early hours and the bedroom light was on. Then later on in the morning, i found out what had happened. You are definitely a good author for a ghost blog. Now days i am so tired, when my head hits the pillow i am asleep. I used to sleep walk as a child, but i feel that was due to stress, i don't do it anymore, thankfully. As always a great article.

  3. Hey Devin;
    Yeah, the sleep issues were huge for me, as as a female in her mid 40s, I have to admit that as I get closer to that magical time for women, sleep becomes even worse. My cure has been to work out 60-90 minutes a day! I'm so exhausted I just pass right out. I found some techniques that help me with sleep as far as getting into the sensual part of sleep. It's honestly better if you sleep with nothing or almost nothing on so the sheets can be comforting. Have a pillow you hug because it's more natural if you're a side sleeper. Have the room extremely dark--you don't want to make out details. I put glow in the dark stars on my ceiling from the kid's toy section of the store. Hee hee. I love to watch the stars as I go to sleep. I also tend to have a fantasy scenario or two that I play out in my mind before sleep of goals I have or things I wish to do in the future--sort of positive affirmation and visualization. It gives me a feeling of promise. Keep the room nice and cool, run a fan if you can to drown out sounds. That's my best advice. It also helps to do a few stretches before going to bed because then your muscles kind of give-way when you bed down. That being said, about the memories, I'm not surprised at all. There's two kinds of memories for folks; short-term and long-term. If you had issues with your short-term memory, like what you did with your day, it'd be more concerning, but having vague memories from youth is not at all unusual. I readily admit that I actually have a lot of memories from when I was under 2! Yes! It's crazy but true. I have an enormous amount of memories as a child with great clarity because that's an important time for lying down your brain's pathways. The teen years, when hormones were introduced, the memories are not at all good and sharp. In fact, hubby is going to his 30-year reunion and I'll have mine next year and I honestly can't name a person I went to high school with and have avoided all the reunions because I just don't remember any close bonds even though I had a lot of close friends. I also was quite a different person then. It's hard to believe, but in high school I cursed out teachers, acted out, and was generally pissed at everyone. I'm such a gentle soul now, it's hard to imagine, but it was a sign of general neglect from my parents. I also blanked out two years of my life as a child when something traumatic happened. I went through many regressions without obtaining that part of my life, although interestingly had a gray alien in my bedroom in one of the regressions,so I came to disregard anything found in the sessions. I can't identify at all with the girl I used to be. I had another huge change in my life in my late 20s when I got panic disorder when my son was a toddler. I was overwhelmed because my role in the family growing up was to be the baby forever and be carefree and pretty and stupid. Suddenly, I had a little one needing me and I felt like I was still a kid myself (even though I was 25). It was one of those moments that you have to rise up to meet. It took me six months to fully recover, but when I did, I changed so much I wasn't recognizable. I went from thinking all I had to offer was being pretty and dumb to realizing my IQ score and becoming really intelligent and not worrying what folks think of my outside, but meriting myself on the inside. I got technical training and a good job and began to run an anxiety disorder group to help others. I don't remember that girl that thought all she had was her looks and that she was dumb so as to be nonthreatening to men and was unambitious because she should just marry someone who was parent-like. When you go through a lot of changes in your character or big life events, the person you were is like someone you once knew not that well. Of course, that's not to discredit that there's times when perhaps medications or stressors can't affect memory, as well, but if you recall it, but it seems vague, then you're experiencing personal growth. If you feel exactly as you did at 18 and you still listen to Steely Dan and drive a Trans Am, there might be some issues... hee hee. Hope that helps. If you ever want to talk more, I'm at and I'm also on MySpace as "autumnforest ghost hunter" screen name. When it comes to anxiety issues and loss, I'm kind of a life lessons expert.

  4. I have had two distinct dreams of being chased, one by a bear and the other is King Kong. I can understand the bear but King Kong? I haven't figured out what they mean, but these dreams have been throughout my life. I have had dreams with people in them that I have seen in years of even thought of. I remember them when I first wake up and most of the time I think, "now that was weird". Most of the time my dreams never make sense but maybe I'm not looking closer at them. Now, I wake up with night sweats and have nights of insomnia but blame that on hormones. Another interesting post.

  5. Hey Julie;
    Yeah, repeat dreams are interesting. Something becomes symbolic for me. I used to watch "All My Children" from the age of like 8 until probably 28. The character "Erica" comes up for me whenever I have dreams where I need a character who is totally selfish. She just represents it to me. My experience with a tornado as a kid probably made tornadoes a great symbol for me of something I have no control over. I have had the King Kong one too. Sometimes these symbols start at a young age. One of my friends has the flying monkeys from "Wizard of Oz." Dreams can be totally bizarre but the real key to them is how you feel at that moment in your life. They can express confusion, loss, confidence, and no matter what happens in them, I always advise to watch how you react in the dream because that's VERY indicative of how you react to what's happening to your right now. I've been having constant end of the world post apocalyptic dreams lately and in every one of them, I'm organizing the group, finding shelter, delegating chores, and everyone else is freaking out. I think it says a lot about my mindset about myself right now. It's extremely informative that way. You can be scared in a dream, but it's what you do in that fear that says how you're handling your daily threats. Hope that helps. I have a passage in a book called "Control Your Dreams" where I told the author about lucid dreams I have. I have them very often where during the dream I say to myself "that's not possible" and then the dream changes because the plot is improbable. It really sucks when I'm having a flying dream! Hee hee :-)

  6. That's interesting about changing the plot in your dreams, I have done that. If I'm about to be hurt in a dream or someone is scaring me, I will wake up immediately. This has happened several times and when I go back to sleep, I change the plot so things don't seem so bad. I'm glad to see that someone else was chased by King Kong. No matter where I went, he would find me. I would like to know what that dream means. Maybe this started way back, when I was a small child, with the abominal snowman in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer? He scared me! I will have to invest in a book about dreams.

  7. Yeah, Julie, there's a lot of different theories on dreams, but as I observe them more and more all my life, I've really come to find that the content means very little so much as the symbolism to your personally and how you react. If King Kong is searching for you and knows where you are anywhere, I'd say it sounds a bit like you might be concerned an authority figure in your life or someone you feel intimidated by could find out what you're trying to hide about yourself. It's that feeling of someone more powerful knowing your plans and hiding places...a vulnerability. Whenever I lose someone I love, have the teeth falling out dream. I'm trying to put them back in my mouth and then realize they're adult teeth and can't be replaced... truly symbolic.

  8. First, I want to say that I love this blog. You do a great job. Always something interesting to read!

    Dreams and nightmares are really a fascinating topic. I have a few repeating anxiety dreams, like the one where I'm back in high school, and it's the end of the school year...I go to clean out my locker and find a math book, and realize it was a class I was supposed to take and never showed up for, and that I would have a big fat "F" on my report card, LOL. Turns out, my husband has been having the exact same dream. Funny.

    A dear friend of mine told me about a waking dream she had, the Old Hag Syndrome type as she was paralyzed. Anyway, she said she "woke up" to find a very scary pirate (of all things) sitting on the edge of her bed, staring at her. She was terrified and couldn't move or scream...then he leaned towards her and said, "You want me to go away, don't you!"

  9. Thanks for your detailed comment Autumnforest-really appreciate it!! You know-I can't even remember things like dad saying he took me outside and held me up to look at moon during moon landing-and on TV and the like-I would give anything if mine went back further-but I just think some peoples don't -I think my memories seem to start somewhere between 5 and 7 years old-that would be cool (I think??) to remember 2 years and under-thanks again and hope you are having a great week!!

  10. Lack of sleep is the worst thing we can suffer, our body and mind is not fresh at all and the consequences are terrible