Monsters & Myopia: Gaining clarity on eyesight in sleep paralysis
While wrestling with a nasty bit of insomnia last night (which began, naturally, during the witching hour of 3:00 a.m.), my mind decided to double-down on keeping me awake by wandering to the unsettling trend of bedroom invaders, those nighttime nasties which take the form of shadow people, ghosts, and alien abductors.
Modern scientific knowledge holds that these intruders are nothing more than a manifestation of sleep paralysis, a hypnogogic state between wakefulness and slumber where the body is paralyzed but the mind is active. I've experienced this a handful of times in my life, thankfully without the negative entities we hear of in so many stories; thankfully, I traffic in the unexplained enough for my subconscious mind to realize when this is happening and, instead of panicking, actually use my time in sleep paralysis to make observations. The commonly-held scientific beliefs—and yes, they are “beliefs,” despite what many folks want to tell you is “fact”—of sleep paralysis still fall short of providing an explanation for the consistency of the entities seen. Why do so many people see a shadow in a fedora during their bouts with sleep paralysis? How does sleep paralysis account for other motifs in the alien abduction scenario, where the victim is taken to a brightly-lit space?
As so often happens in the twilight territory of Forteana, we are left with the question: is this phenomenon natural, supernatural, or a mix of the two? An idea occurred to me last night, bathed in the mocking digital glow of my alarm clock, which might help clarify an answer. I have an unfortunate degree of near-sightedness, and, being a good steward of my vision, refuse to sleep in my contact lenses.
Naturally, the question occurred: if I were unfortunate enough to see a being standing in my doorway during sleep panalysis, would it be fuzzy?
Common sense would dictate that, just as in dreams, the physiology of my eyes wouldn't factor into the clarity of a purely mental image. But, a cursory internet search reveals a disturbing trend. Consider this excerpt from True Ghost Tales:
The first time I experienced sleep paralysis I was away at college living in a dorm. I was sleeping on my back -which is rare for me- when I saw a dark shadowy figure of a man standing in the middle of my room.I thought someone had broken in,not an unlikely occurance in a dorm. I could see behind him the light from the hallway shining through the bottom of the door. I felt like he was there to harm me but when I tried to scream and move, i was unable to do either. I finally awakened terrified and when I did, the room appeared exactly as I had seen it with the light shining under the door, minus the dark figure. My eyes must have been open during the paralysis because I am very nearsighted and the figure and my room appeared as blurry as they were when I finally awakened. When I dream, I dream in 20/20 vision, not blurry so there is a part of me that doesn’t buy the science behind the SP explanation.
Granted, True Ghost Tales is a little bit “spoopy” and not exactly an unimpeachable source, but other postings on the web seem to back up this user's experience. One Reddit user, commenting in this thread, humorously remarks “I'm extremely nearsighted, so the figure is appropriately fuzzy (isn't the brain amazing/a douche).” I'm extremely curious to know what mechanism in the brain is being “a douche,” and whether or not other hallucinations, including those induced by psychedelics, are similarly out-of-focus when corrective lenses are removed from the equation. From a purely logical standpoint, I find the hand-waving excuse that my brain would add fuzziness to not hold much water. Perhaps this is an avenue of research that could be useful in the future.
Header image from the 2015 sleep paralysis documentary The Nightmare