What is Old Hag Syndrome?

Old Hag syndrome
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Victims of "Old Hag Syndrome" awake to find that they cannot move, even though they can see, hear, feel and smell. There is sometimes the feeling of a great weight on the chest and the sense that there is a sinister or evil presence in the room. And like the above reader, they are often quite frightened about what is happening to them.

The name of the phenomenon comes from the superstitious belief that a witch -- or an old hag -- sits or "rides" the chest of the victims, rendering them immobile.

Although that explanation isn't taken very seriously nowadays, the perplexing and often very frightening nature of the phenomenon leads many people to believe that there are supernatural forces at work -- ghosts or demons.

The experience is so frightening because the victims, although paralyzed, seem to have full use of their senses. In fact, it is often accompanied by strange smells, the sound of approaching footsteps, apparitions of weird shadows or glowing eyes, and the oppressive weight on the chest, making breathing difficult if not impossible. All of the body's senses are telling the victims that something real and unusual is happening to them.

Rather than ghosts or demons, however, there is probably a scientific explanation: "sleep paralysis" or SP (sometimes ISP for "isolated sleep paralysis").

An Example

Here is a fairly typical example of an "old hag" experience from a reader named Emily:

"When I was about 9 or 10 (I'm 17 now), I woke up and couldn't move at all. When I opened my eyes, I saw like a shadow thing about a foot away from my face in the shape a head. When I saw that I was scared to death. I tried calling my mom; I tried screaming, but barely anything would come out. It lasted what felt like a few minutes and I guess I fell asleep.

I never thought much about it after that because I just thought my mind was playing tricks on me or something.

"About three months ago I was sleeping and then I woke up to like something whispering in my ear in a male voice, and I opened my eyes and was really scared because there are no males in my house and I couldn't move at all. I tried really hard to move and call for my mom and when I finally could move, I got up really fast and saw a shadow figure that looked like a male kneeling on one knee next to my bed.

"I was pretty freaked out, but I just decided to go back to sleep. Then I was awoken again by the same whispering and couldn't move again, and so I tried even harder to call for my mom. After a few tries, it was finally loud enough, because she was just in the next room. I told her what happened and she believed me and just told me I must be dreaming or something.

"I went back to sleep and it happened a third time, and this time I was just angry, so I tried to yell at whatever it was to just stop. I kept on until I could finally hear myself yelling and then it was gone. It hasn't happened since."

Here are more examples.