Alien Abduction or Sleep Paralysis?
(c) Kathleen Marden 2012
I have personally been embroiled in the UFO abduction debate for 46 years and professionally involved for the past 21 years. As the niece of Betty and Barney Hill, the first abductees to gain public recognition in the United States, I find this unsolved mystery fascinating. On February 22, 1966, I observed an unconventional flying object hovering approximately less than 1000 feet above me. There were five other witnesses. I have observed additional anomalies that have been linked (by some researchers), to alien abduction phenomena. I have, however, never experienced sleep paralysis. I wish that I had so that I could describe it from a personal perspective. Without firsthand knowledge of this psycho-physiological process, I must rely upon information from those who study it professionally and the testimony of those who have experienced it.
Several skeptical scientists have suggested that sleep paralysis is the best explanation for nocturnal bedroom abductions. Nearly all abductees/ experiencers (depending upon one’s emotional response to the event), disagree. Those who were initially taken from an external environment (car, campsite, forest, field), after having a close encounter with an unconventional flying object and/or observing non-human entities, and experiencing approximately two hours “lost” time, are not convinced that that their subsequent bedroom abductions are sleep related anomalies.
Many abductees/experiencers have no memory of being taken from an external environment. They have only vivid memories of being taken from their beds during the night by humanoid figures and later returned with new, unexplainable marks on their bodies. Others wonder if they might have been abducted because they have observed strange lights in their bedrooms at night or observed the floating face of an alien figure above their beds.
Skeptics and scientific ufologists remind us that in the absence of substantial evidence, we cannot accept anecdotal abduction accounts as real. Our perception of the events that occur during the night, while we are sleeping or partially awake, could possibly be distorted by our sleeping minds. REM sleep, visual imagery, and sleep hallucinations can be confusing.
One thing is clear. All of us experience paralysis as a function of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. More dreaming occurs during REM sleep than in another stage of sleep. The paralysis prevents us from acting out our dreams and harming ourselves or others. It is most frequently reported to occur when we are falling asleep. But it can also occur upon waking. Some people have a sleep disorder that that interferes with normal REM sleep, causing them to act out their dreams. This condition requires medical treatment because REM sleep disorder sufferers have injured themselves or family members while in acting out in REM sleep.
Sleep paralysis is related to REM but is a different entity. It can occur just before falling asleep or waking up. You will have conscious awareness of your surroundings but not be able to move anything except your eyes. You might observe shadowy figures in your bedroom and your heart might pound, as a sense of fear jars you into wakefulness. About 30-40% of those queried by sleep study scientists report that they have experienced sleep paralysis. It is simply a sign that their bodies are not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep.
People with narcolepsy, a condition characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and REM activity within ten minutes of falling asleep, are more likely to experience sleep paralysis accompanied by hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations than the general population. Sleep paralysis alone is characteristically different than the colorful imagery described by people who have experienced H/H hallucinations.
There is conflicting information about H/H hallucinations and I have not been able to find conclusive answers with regard to its prevalence among human populations. HH ahllucinations can last up to several minutes and affect an estimated 5% to over 12% of the normal population. However, David J. Hufford wrote in The Terror That Comes in the Night, that 50% or more of Yasuo Hishikawa’s narcoleptic subjects reported that they had experienced H/H hallucinations.
Hypnagogic (between waking and sleeping) and hypnopompic (between sleeping and waking) hallucinations occur when factors such as stress, extreme fatigue, medications, and mental illness cause the part of the brain that distinguishes between conscious perceptions and internally generated perceptions to misfire. This results in internally generated visions, sounds, feelings, smells or tastes. H/H hallucination experiencers often see colored geometric shapes or parts of objects. Others might observe the full image of a person, monster or animal. Sometimes lines or the outlines of figures are observed. Sensations of floating or flying are common, along with hallucinated buzzing sounds. H/H hallucinations can be frightening. The hallucinations can last from seconds to minutes and are usually accompanied by a brief period of sleep paralysis. They are experienced as being as real as real.
I once personally experienced a hypnopompic hallucination, without sleep paralysis. My husband and I were sleeping soundly when the telephone jarred me into partial wakefulness in the middle of the night. I didn’t answer the phone because I “saw” my husband walk toward it, as if he were going to answer it. Even though the room was dark I perceived that he was clothed in a brightly colored red and black plaid flannel shirt. The almost fluorescent colors were brighter than what can be observed in natural sunlight. I was perplexed because the phone continued to ring even though I “saw” my husband lift the receiver from the cradle. Almost immediately I was startled by the awareness of his presence in the bed next to me. My hallucination vanished and I answered the phone. It is the only hypnopompic hallucination that I have ever had, but as a lifelong student of human perception, I found it interesting and informative.
Some sleep scientists contend that an experiencer’s perception of alien abduction while sleeping or awake in bed is most likely attributable to sleep paralysis, perhaps with hypnopompic hallucinations. They suspect that extraterrestrial entities are generated in hypnagogic and hypnopompic sleep states. Sleep hallucinations might be related to dreams because they are more elaborate and enduring than sleep paralysis alone. Hypothetically, we might be sleeping and perhaps dreaming about alien entities. When we start to move up out of REM sleep we might experience a hypnopompic hallucination and “see” nonhuman entities in our bedroom that we perceive as real. After a few seconds or minutes, we become fully awake but remember the onset of an abduction/contact as if it were real.
If we experience a combination of sleep paralysis and H/H hallucinations, we will suffer intense fear and wake up paralyzed, unable to move anything except our eyes. We might observe shadowy figures standing beside our beds or hovering overhead. If we attempt to cry out we find that we can’t utter more than a nondescript sound. We’re locked inside paralyzed bodies, unable to speak or move, except for our eyes. Our hearts pound and we strain to breathe as if there is a weight upon our chests. We are acutely aware of surroundings. Shadows transform into frightening shadowy images and sounds intensify. We struggle to break free from our dreadful predicament, and within seconds we are fully awake. This occurs to some of us when we emerge from REM sleep and our natural paralysis continues for a few seconds. I have never met an abductee/experiencer who believes that their ET contact experience was sleep related.
I have, however, spoken with individuals who have experienced HH hallucinations throughout their lifetime. Most report the observation of geometric shapes or disconnected body parts. One observed the upper torso and face of a monster. Two have observed alien heads that were not connected to bodies. These details are not consistent with the reports that I have received from abductees/experiencers.
Many abductees/ experiencers have described distinctly different demarcations between sleep paralysis, H/H hallucinations and real abduction experiences. They insist that they were fully awake at the onset of an alien abduction or visitation. They might even have received a telepathic message earlier in the day that they would be visited. They did not wake up paralyzed. It was only after they cried out or attempted to fight or flee that they became paralyzed. Some might even remember being transported through solid objects, such as a wall, roof or window, to a craft. Most have observed non-human entities and might even retain a complex memory of being examined on the craft and/or being taught a lesson. They are later returned to their beds. Prior to their experience some witnesses report that they were nervously glancing at their alarm clocks, unable to sleep due to their anxiety about an impending abduction. Having noted the time on their alarm clocks prior to and after their experience, they can think of no prosaic explanation for the lost time. Sometimes bed partners and family members sleeping in the house recall identical experiences on the same night.
Sleep paralysis and HH hallucinations are not an acceptable explanation for “Jennie Henderson’s experiences. At age 16, she and a companion were in route to a high school basketball game when they were stopped and immobilized by an unconventional craft and “lost” two hour’s time. At first the craft resembled a helicopter in rapid pursuit of their vehicle. The silent teardrop shaped object hovered directly overhead and the engine of the Volkswagen died. As if only a moment had passed the car restarted and the teens were once again on their way to their destination. Jennie anticipated meeting her younger brother there and transporting him home at the end of the school event. Upon their arrival, they discovered that the event had ended nearly two hours earlier. There was no prosaic explanation for their “lost” time, and the family decided not to make a formal report of the event.
Years later, Jennie sought help after she experienced a series of frightening nocturnal bedroom visitations. Occasionally, she would awaken during the night and observe nonhuman entities in her bedroom. Shortly thereafter, a wave of paralysis crept up her body. Several times, she was fully awake when an unseen force suddenly and unexpectedly ripped her body from her bed. Her next conscious memory was of finding herself in a holding area aboard a strange craft accompanied by short non-human entities with grayish skin and large eyes. As time passed, she was able to recall many of the details of her visits with extraterrestrial entities, without hypnosis. Her husband and children’s memories of the events added support to Jennie’s suspicion that she had not experienced a sleep anomaly or vivid dream. On two occasions, her neighbors observed a silent disk-shaped craft hovering over her rural home.
Many abductees believe that their experiences are real because they and others in their homes retain the same experiential memories. When there is unusual physical evidence attached to these memories, it is difficult to find an adequate prosaic explanation such as sleep paralysis and H/H hallucinations. Abductees are often awakened by a rushing sound and activity in their bedrooms. At the onset of their experience they are not paralyzed, and often cry out, attempt to escape, or even throw objects at the intruders. Small entities, often with glistening eyes, move about their bedrooms. The abductees’ partners sometimes attempt to fight back, but are quickly immobilized and returned to their beds in a seemingly deep sleep.
Some abductees/experiencers are returned to their beds, but others end up locked outside of their homes. Some awaken on their roofs, in their vehicles, or even in someone else’s home. Sometimes they find mud and vegetative matter in their beds. Others find they are no longer dressed in their own clothing, but in a stranger’s nightshirt. Sometimes experiencers find landing trace evidence on their property.
Most academic psychologists ignore these unique characteristics associated with nocturnal bedroom abductions. Instead they attempt to squeeze reports made by abductees/experiencers into sleep paralysis and HH hallucination categories, despite the evidence to the contrary. There are several reasons for this. One is that HH hallucinations and sleep paralysis are often experienced as real as real and can contain complex imagery and physiological responses. Another is that when Occam’s razor, the principle that among competing hypotheses, the simplest explanation within accepted scientific paradigms is the most plausible, HHHs and SP are the scientifically acceptable explanations. Political agendas have relegated UFO and alien abduction to the fringe science category. Officially, ufology is a pseudoscience lacking the respectability required for serious scientific study. A few courageous scientists have stepped outside politically acceptable constraints and have advanced our scientific knowledge of UFO related phenomena. However, some have experienced the professional consequences of thinking outside the box. Young scientists who wish to advance their professional careers are fearful of investigating these taboo subjects. To do so might lead to professional suicide.
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