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Night Terrors Case Study

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Paranormal Experience

Hannah is a 30-year-old divorced, mother of one. Hannah describes herself as a practicing Muslim with strong spiritual/religious beliefs. Hannah has no history of mental illness.

Hannah reported for a few consecutive nights she had been unable to sleep due to some stressful situations she was facing. She would either have difficulty falling asleep or difficult remaining asleep. On this particular night she did not go to bed until approximately 4:00 A.M. Hannah woke up not long after falling asleep and was thinking it was going to be another night of tossing and turning. When she woke up she felt heaviness on her chest and found it difficult to breathe. She felt as though she was paralysed and was unable to move her limbs. This frightened her and she attempt to scream but was unable to produce any sound. After about a minute this feeling gave in and she was able to move and the weight felt as though it had been lifted off her chest. Hannah returned to sleep still with a little fear and confusion. She was unable to explain what had just happened to her. Hannah recalls awakening again with the same symptoms as before. Hannah felt more afraid this time. Her attempts to scream were once again met to no avail. After a minute or so, Hannah was able to move. She got up and went to the bathroom to get a glass of water and wash her face. Hannah returned to sleep. Shortly after to remembers waking up. This time it was a little different. She not only felt the weight on her chest and paralysis but felt a presence in her room. As she scanned the room she noticed four figures. They appeared to be male and approaching her. The figures appeared to be dark and mystical. Hannah felt very afraid and helpless. She was unable to do anything. The figures disappeared before reaching her and the weight was lifted from her chest. At this point Hannah recited some verses from the Koran. She believes this helped rid the evil spirits and prevented them from retuning that night.

Hannah stated that she believed the occurrences were due to evil spirits being sent on her by a kitibe (bad magic spell). She thinks someone who holds a grudge against her had someone put a kitibe (black magic spell) on her. She believes she knows who may have done this to her. She believes the evil spirits were trying to do her harm and that is why she was paralysed. It would have stopped her from putting up a fight. She thinks the weight on her chest was there to prevent her from breathing and attempting to kill the good in her enabling the evil to enter. She believes that the only thing that saved her that night from the evil spirits doing her harm was her reciting the verses from the Koran.

When Hannah was asked if she had ever experienced anything similar to this in the past Hannah recalled another time something similar had occurred. Hannah remembered having a similar experience during her pregnancy with her son 10 years ago. She was staying at a when staying at a friend's house after the split from her husband. She said the experience was extremely similar but this first experience involved a dog rather than these mystical figures. She said she woke up with the feeling of a weight on her chest and saw a barking dog running at her. She attempted to sit up but was unable to, as she felt paralysed. She said she attempted to scream but was unable to. Her friend appeared and Hannah said she snapped out of it. The friend said she had heard Hannah scream and wanted to see what was wrong. The friend stated that when she found Hannah, Hannah appeared to be in a state of shock and confusion. She believed Hannah had been dreaming but Hannah was sure she was in a wakeful state.

Other than the two experiences above Hannah says she hasn't experienced any other anomalous events. Hannah states that she does believe in what some may consider paranormal phenomenon such as good spirits, miracles, evil spirits and the workings of kitibe (black magic spells). She states that she believes the devil is a strong entity that holds the power to influence people in a bad way, which is what feeds the workings of kitibe (black magic) and evil spirits. She states that she doesn't believe in UFO, aliens or superstitions.

Alternate Explanation: Sleep Paralysis

When the event told by Hannah is looked at from a scientific viewpoint it seems to fit a condition known as sleep paralysis. If it were sleep paralysis that caused Hannah to experience this event it would not be paranormal.

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder. It is classified under a parasomia usually associated with REM sleep.

Clinically sleep paralysis "consists of a period of inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset (hypnagogic or predormital form) or upon awakening either during the night or in the morning (hypnopompic or postdormital form)." (American Sleep Disorders Association, 1990, p.162).

Sleep paralysis episodes typically occur during transitions from wakefulness to sleep (the hypnagogic state) or from sleep to wakefulness (the hypnopomipc state) (Cheyne, 2002). Abnormalities in this transition may allow sleep and waking processes to overlap. (Cheyne, Newby-Clark & Rueffer, 1999). Sleep paralysis experiences are not always nightmarish and do not always elicit fear (Sherwood, 2002). Most episodes, however, incorporate imagery or sensations, which cause fear. Images of threatening human or human like figures such as ghosts and demons are particularly common (Powell & Nielsen, 1998). People experiencing sleep paralysis report a subjective feeling of wakefulness but are possibly experiencing some form of false dreaming (Parker & Blackmore, 2002; Gangdev, 2004). The mystical hallucinations reported are compatible with this interpretation. This would also explain the structural similarities in the reports while allowing for the content differences (Parker & Blackmore, 2002).

Characteristics of sleep paralysis can be described by a three-factor structure involving experiences consistent with threatening intruders (Intruder), physical assaults (Incubus), and vestibular-motor (V-M) bodily sensations (previously known as Unusual Bodily Experiences) (Cheyne & Girad, 2004; Cheyne, 2003; Harris, 2004).

The first factor labeled Intruder consists of a sensed presences, fear, and auditory and visual hallucinations (Cheyne, 2003; Cheyne, Newby-Clark & Rueffer, 1999). Most commonly a sense of fear is felt and the report of a felt presence (Parker & Blackmore, 2002; Cheyne, Newby-Clark & Rueffer, 1999). The presence is often of a person or "form" unknown to the dreamer. If the gender is reported, the presence is more often male. Most commonly the presence is that of a sexless "form"



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