Ever Seen A Demon In The Middle Of The Night? You Weren't Imagining It

<span class="copyright">F. Scott Schafer via Getty Images</span>
F. Scott Schafer via Getty Images

Around 15 years ago, I was living in a cottage in the countryside and I woke from my sleep to a woman at the end of my bed in what I’d describe as Victorian clothes, just staring at me. I wasn’t scared but I definitely saw her and can even picture what she looked like to this day.

However, when I told the family I was living with about my ghostly visitor, none of them believed me and they even said that there was no way she’d be there because the cottage was only built 30 years prior.

I’d argue that there’s no reason to believe that ghosts can’t wander the countryside at will, but that’s for another day.

Now I’ve learned from The Sleep Foundation that my vision likely wasn’t actually a ghost but that doesn’t mean I didn’t see her.

What causes us to see demons and ghosts in the middle of the night?

It turns out that seeing demons in the middle of the night is actually a form of sleep paralysis. According to The Sleep Foundation: “Roughly 20% of people have an episode of sleep paralysis at least occasionally. In as many as 75% of these episodes, the sleeper has a hallucination in which they hear, see, feel, or sense something in their bedroom that is not actually there.”

While we don’t yet know exactly why this happens, it’s believed that during sleep paralysis, the lines between sleep and wakefulness are blurred.

The Sleep Foundation explained: “As a person is at the edge of waking up or falling asleep, they become aware of their surroundings while their muscle paralysis continues for a few seconds to several minutes.

“This means that they can think, see, and breathe while they lie awake, but they are unable to move their body.”

When this is combined with a sleep-related hallucination, the person then begins to sense changes in the environment that don’t actually exist. These hallucinations are called ‘intruder hallucinations.’

The conditions related to sleep paralysis

While this is most often triggered by a lack of sleep, it can also be related to a range of disorders, according to the NHS. These include:

  • insomnia

  • disrupted sleeping patterns – for example, because of shift work or jet lag

  • narcolepsy – a long-term condition that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • generalised anxiety disorder

  • panic disorder

  • a family history of sleep paralysis

The NHS recommends keeping good sleep habits, such as not eating too close to bedtime and getting 8 hours of sleep a night to tackle sleep paralysis. However, if you think you may have a deeper problem, a GP may be able to treat an underlying condition that could be triggering sleep paralysis such as insomnia or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.