After filmmaker Carla MacKinnon began waking up numerous times a week to an incapability of moving, accompanied by the feeling that an ominous manifestation was also in the room with her, she started researching what could be causing this. Experiencing the stuff of horror movies, MacKinnon discovered she suffered from a condition known as sleep paralysis. Now fueling her knowledge into a short film, which will be introduced sometime in May, MacKinnon is one of many that suffer from this strange disorder.
Sleep paralysis is when a person becomes conscious during sleep; however, their muscles stay in the extremely relaxed state of sleep that prevents them from acting out their dreams. This illness can be terrifying, as the person feels like they are living out their dreams. Several people who suffer from this feel a violent presence in the room with them.
After speaking with both scientists and psychologists, Mackinnon’s search led her to people who have experienced the same event. While there are embellished myths that swirl around sleep paralysis, Mackinnon found several people who claimed to have experienced similar accounts. One man she spoke to reported that during his episodes, he had vivid, realistic hallucinations that a young child would dance around the bed and sing nursery rhymes. Occasionally, the man explained, the child would sit on his pillow and speak to him. The man recalled a specific night where the child asked him a personal question. When he refused to answer the question, the child immediately turned into a horrific demon.
MacKinnon also encountered a man that had narcolepsy, which experts believe makes sleep paralysis more likely to happen. He recalled that he frequently saw or heard people in his house or room. One night he woke up and saw that a figure was in his room, as usual. However, this time it was an actual burglar. Even though he was in the process of sleep paralysis, he was able to identify that this figure was different.
Many people who suffer from sleep paralysis report cases of someone suffocating them. MacKinnon believes this may be because breathing is in the automatic cycle of sleep when the person awakens. Additionally, people report monsters or demons, which could be because hallucinations tend to be part of the dream world. Add in other factors, such as a disrupted sleep or sleeping in a scary place, and the ideal setting for sleep paralysis is created. Scientists have no idea how many people truly suffer from this, as it is hard to pinpoint. They estimate anywhere from 5 to 60% of the population has this condition.
Since her research, MacKinnon was able to bring her episodes under control by remaining calm when they occur. She does this by paying attention to small details, such as how her legs feel or what position she is in. This kind of approach enables her to weed out what is real and what isn’t.