Sleep Paralysis or something else?

You wake up unable to move, barely able to breathe... you feel an oppressive weight on your chest... and you sense some evil presence in the room... The old hag strikes!

"About a year and a half ago, I was awoken in the night by a strong, warm breeze. I could not move and could not scream. It lasted about 30 seconds and was gone. I saw nothing. Last week it happened again. I was lying in bed and again was awoken. I felt a very strong force holding me down. I could not sit up. I tried to scream for my daughter and could not get any noise to come out. I tried to hit the wall with my arm and this force would not let me. It again lasted about 30 seconds and was over. I really don't believe in ghosts and didn't see anything at all. I am just really scared and confused." 

Have you ever had a similar experience? The above incident is a classic example of what has become known as the "old hag" syndrome and is one of many such letters I receive from readers each month.

The victims 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. The spell is broken and the victims recover often on the point of losing consciousness. Fully awake and well, they sit up, completely baffled by what just happened to them since now the room is entirely normal.

Confronted with such a bizarre and irrational experience, it's no wonder that many victims fear that they have been attacked in their beds by some malevolent spirit, demon or, perhaps, an alien visitor. The phenomenon occurs to both men and women of various ages and seems to happen to about 15 percent of the population at least once in a lifetime.

It can occur while the victim is sleeping during the day or night, and it is a worldwide phenomenon that has been documented since ancient times. "In the 2nd century, the Greek physician Galen attributed it to indigestion," according to The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. "Some individuals suffer repeated attacks over a limited period of time; others have repeated attacks for years." 


The Scientific Explanation ? 

The medical establishment is quite aware of this phenomenon, but has a less sensational name than "old hag syndrome" for it. They call it "sleep paralysis" or SP (sometimes ISP for "isolated sleep paralysis"). 

So what causes it? Dr. Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston, says that sleep paralysis occurs when the brain is in the transition state between deep, dreaming sleep (known as REM sleep for its rapid eye movement) and waking up. During REM dreaming sleep, the brain has turned off most of the body's muscle function so we cannot act out our dreams - we are temporarily paralyzed.

"Sometimes your brain doesn't fully switch off those dreams - or the paralysis - when you wake up," Hirshkowitz told ABC News. "That would explain the 'frozen' feeling and hallucinations associated with sleep paralysis." According to his research, the effect only really lasts from a few seconds to as long as a minute, but in this half-dream half-awake state, to the victim it can seem much longer.

In her article, "Help! I Can't Move!," Florence Cardinal,'s Guide Sleep Disorders, writes: "Sleep paralysis is often accompanied by vivid hallucinations. There may be a sense someone is in the room, or even hovering over you. At other times, there seems to be pressure on the chest, as though someone or something perched there. There may even be sexual attacks associated with the hallucinations.

The sound of footsteps, doors opening and closing, voices, all can be a very frightening part of sleep paralysis. These are known as Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences and they are what make people dread an episode of sleep paralysis." For all their explanations, however, the sleep experts still do not know what causes the brain to screw up like this, or why some people experience it more than others.

But there are some theories:

* "Episodes of paralysis can occur when the body is in any position, but happen most frequently when the sleeper is lying flat on his or her back. Intense fear is common, but sometimes other strong emotions, such as sadness or anger, are present," says Florence Cardinal in "The Terror of Sleep Paralysis." 

* For some, SP is often brought about by not getting enough sleep or being overtired. 

* Likewise, disrupted sleep schedules or circadian rhythm disturbances can produce an episode of sleep paralysis. 

* It is more common in people who suffer from severe anxiety or bipolar disorder. 

* Some research shows that SP is five times more likely to occur with people who are taking such anti-anxiety drugs as Xamax or Valium. 

* A study found that 35 percent of subjects with isolated sleep paralysis also report a history of wake panic attacks unrelated to the experience of paralysis. 


How can you prevent sleep paralysis? According to clinical research, you may be able to minimize the episodes by following good sleep hygiene:

* get enough sleep 

* reduce stress 

* exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime) 

* keep a regular sleep schedule[/list] "For some people this may not be possible, however," says Florence Cardinal, "so instead let's look at ways to escape from the grip of sleep paralysis.

The best remedy is to will yourself to move, even if it's only the wiggling of your little finger.

This is often sufficient to break the spell. If you can manage it, scream! Your roommate may not appreciate it, but it's better than suffering through a long and fear-filled episode. If all else fails, seek professional help." Sounds like good advice.

The bottom line is that you really have nothing to fear, in a paranormal sense, from sleep paralysis. That old hag you feel perched on your chest may be nothing more than the anxiety of living in a stressful world.

Another contender for Australia's most haunted village?

Morpeth Post Office 

Morpeth is located in the Hunter Region in NSW Australia, it began as a land grant to Lieu Edward Close in 1821 originally known as Green Hill, Closes property was originally known as “Illaluang” an aboriginal wording which means “high dry place”. It is believed under pressure from Closes wife the name was changed to “Morpeth”. Named after the town of the same name in the UK in the county of Northumberland. 

Close began to subdivide his grant in the 1830’s as Green Hill was quickly becoming the major river port for the Hunter Region as Queens Warf at Morpeth was as far as the ships of deep berth could travel . 

The produce from which was heavily supplying food and wool to Sydney.

Consequently a transient town sprung up on the Hunter River which eventually included nearly 20 Inns, a flour mill, candle factory, soap factory, private wharves, a courthouse, school of arts, a stone church built by Close, a bonds store, four train stations and many warehouses on the river associated with the river trade.

Morpeth prospered well till the end of the 19th century but river trade was hindered by the construction of the railways. River trade continued into the early 20th century when the very last commercial cargo leaving the wharf in 1950. By the 1970’s Morpeth was a literal ghost town with a small population of which many were considered of the lower socioeconomic class.

With the restoration of Campbell’s store in the late 1980’s Morpeth slowly became a tourist destination and a place of art, culture and cafes. Also due to the largely intact historic building’s dating from the early 19th century which would have been demolished if the town had continued as a place of major commerce.

Morpeth is a town known locally about its many ghost stories, historic tours and ghost tours have been conducted there since the 1980’s by various people.

Ghosts have been witnessed on the main street, in many of the historic buildings including Campbell’s store, the old Convent, Churches, Hotels also private homes, nearly every building in town has its own ghost tales to tell.

A very well-known story is that of the ghost of Stephen Cantwell who drowned in the well out the back of Campbell’s store when the premises was being constructed in 1860’s. Only a rough pile of stones indicate where the well once was. People have felt their clothes being tugged by unseen hands around the vicinity of the well.

Is Morpeth one of Australia’s most haunted towns? You’ll have to visit to find out?

Morpeth is approximately a 2hrs drive from Sydney, half an hour from Newcastle and about 45 mins from Port Stephens. 


Australia's most haunted prison?


Maitland Gaol, Located in Maitland, NSW, Australia, is 160km North of Sydney and approximately 30km north-west of Newcastle. It was opened on 1st January 1848 following the closure of main Gaol in Newcastle in the same year. 

16 executions by hanging were carried out at the Gaol at the front gates and back corner. There there was usually be a crowd waiting to see up until 1861. It became almost a macabre spectators sport. The hangings took place between 1843 and 1897 - all for rape or murder. The last man executed was Charles Hines in May 1897 for raping his stepdaughter.

If a woman was sentenced, then her children were also housed in the Prison for the duration of the sentence. One of the older blocks in the gaol held the women and their children together in terrible conditions.

Conditions were indeed very harsh in the old gaol as the Prison was originally built to house only 150 prisoners, sometimes almost 300 prisoners were housed at one time. The mental torment and anguish is embedded in the walls, sometimes a lifetime of pain for the innocent children.

This gaol was still being used by corrective services till early 1998 and was considered by the criminal community to be one of the harsh and toughest gaols in Australia. Ironically, it was the security issues and not the unbearable conditions for inmates that finally closed the goal down.

Notable Events: 

1844 First foundation stone laid.

1848 Gaol opens and receives first prisoners.

1861 Public executions ceased.

1975 inmates rioted in protest of the Gaols conditions using all manner of home made weapons. The maintenance block was set on fire and Darcy Dugan was blamed for enticing the riot. 78 Inmates were transferred to other prisons.

1977 "Maddog" Raymond Denning and 6 others escaped through an exhaust vent in the shower block. They were all back inside in 2 hours after a massive police swoop of the area.

A 5.5m long tunnel was discovered in Cell 7 in C Wing in 1980. The man who informed the warden of the tunnel had his throat cut so viciously it swung back on his shoulders. It was hidden with a sheet of plastic painted the same colour as the floor. The tunnel was filled in with two truckloads of concrete. There were many other escape attempts but most failed. Of the 32 attempted escapees, 31 were recaptured.

1978, a 23-year-old inmate protested for 16 hours by sitting on top of the gaol's Administration building. At one stage he disappeared over the roof returning with food. Armed with a softwood stake he waved to the Maitland Mercury newspaper and television journalists.

1993 last buildings constructed.

1998 Gaol closed it was Australia longest running prison.

An Example of a Daily Routine :

* 7:00am Inmates released from cell, morning muster, collect breakfast before being locked back into cells.

* 8:00am Inmates released from cells to the exercise yards.

* 8:30am Selected inmates released from yards to workshops, e.g. Saddlery, Tailor's Shop and Laundry.

* 9:00am Inmates permitted access to Chapel and Administration area for library, education and training courses, counselling and phone calls.

* 11:30am Lunchtime Muster, inmates locked in their cells to eat lunch.

* 12:30pm Inmates released to exercise yards and workshops.

* 2:00pm - 3:00pm Shower Block open.

* 3:00pm Workshops close and those inmates to shower blocks.

* 4:00pm Inmates to yards with cells open for cleaning.

* 4:30pm Evening Muster.

* 5:10pm Inmates take dinner to their cells and are secured for the night.

* 11:00pm Lights out.



One popular way to get drugs into the Gaol was to fill a cut tennis ball, reseal it and then throw it over the stone walls. Dead birds stuffed with drugs were often used as well. Inmates brewed their own alcohol using food scraps and sugar and then hid it in the toilet, fire extinguishers, air vents or even buried it in the garden!

Ivan Milat the infamous Backpacker murder was also housed at the prison. The grill over the door of his cell had to be welded over as he had a habit of filling cups with his urine and throwing them at guards as they walked past.

Reported Paranormal Activity

On our first visit to Matiland Goal at the conclusion of the psychic tour, we were shown by the then cafe staff, two impressive ghost pictures. The first one was of a white figure on the guard tower. The picture was taken at night and an obvious white glowing image of a person was apparent standing on the guard tower catwalk. It definately looked like what most people would describe as a ghost.

The second image they showed us was of the inside of a cellblock. The photograph showed a caped figure wearing a top hat no facial features were apparent. The figure seemed to be moving at the time as the apparition was blurry. Apparently the area where the phantom image was taken was the guards office at the entry to the wing which was an open desk like area with a four foot or so wall no glass or other protection around it. We were told that what the figure was wearing was a gaolers uniform from the early years of the prison - c1800's.

Without copies of these pictures it is not possbile to validate the wether or not they are genuine.

In another area pshyics and others have apparently witnessed a ghost of an inmate that rocks from side to side in the doorway of his cell, This ghost could be a residual in nature.

Other activity reported have been heavy doors swinging by themselves with no wind present, unexplained clanging and creaking noises, eerie sensations in certain cells and sounds of men wispering.

On following visits we have used voice recorders and digital cameras, we captured a few orbs in b wing but we have since put that down to dust and other paritcles in the air. No EVPs were heard.

On our first visit this following story told to us;

An alleged Devil worshiping prisoner, in cell 4 C block frequently conducted Satanic ritulas in his cell , evidence to support this claim is that some occult graffiti remains on the walls of this cell. Apparently after forming a pact with the devil the prisoner commited suicide by setting himself on fire. The unfortunate guard whos job it was to clean up the mess said to be a level head family man was found later in his bathroom at home in a pool of blood with his wrists slashed. He had used broken glass from the bathroom mirror he had smashed . An apparent message was written in his own blood, stating that is was necessary for him to kill himself to prevent the unleashing of Satanic forces. Cell 4 is still padlocked to this day.

An interesting yarn but more evidence needs to come to light to prove this story.

Australia's most haunted house?

Monte Cristo homestead was built by Christopher Crawley and his family in 1884. He acquired land locally in January 1876 under provisions of the Robertson Act of 1861. It is the second structure to be built on the land the original dwelling became the servants quarters after the homestead was built.

The current owners, The Ryan's purchased the property at a bargain price of 1000 pounds (AUD $2000) in 1963. The Ryan's extensively restored the house to its former glory after many years of hard work. Reginald Ryan held down several jobs to keep up repayments and to pay for the renovations.

The first bizarre occurrence at the homestead happened after the descendants of the Crawley family employed a caretaker Jack Simpson to protect what was left of the building. The caretaker was shot dead by a youth who claimed he was influenced by the movie Psycho.

The first "paranormal" event to be witnessed by the Ryan's happened not long after they moved in on the 3rd of June 1963. After returning home after dark the found that the house was blindingly illuminated and as electricity had not yet been connected to the house the Ryan's were at a loss as to what caused intense lights which emanated out of every room. 

In 1990 the Ryan's son also experienced the same phenomenon after returning home to the house. The rest of the family were attending a ball and the house was unoccupied.

The Ryan's pets did not like the house one bit both their dog and cat ran out of the house never seen again after they were first brought inside. It was three years before any pet would stay, although the newer pets would not enter the house and preferred to stay outside.

Caged chickens were found strangled in their secured pens and the family parrot was also found choked to death in its cage. Other pets died under strange and inexplicable ways.

The Ryans children would complain about a man peering in their bedroom window located on the second floor dressed in farmers clothes, though no verandah was outside the girls room. 

Visitors to the house often experienced unseen forces impeding them from moving about the homestead. A bearded man in a brown suit followed other visitors around, some claimed that it was the ghost of the original owner Christopher Crawley.

Mediums who visited the house believed they could sense the death of an infant at the stairwell. And it is claimed that a maid carrying an infant had the child wrenched from her hands by unseen forces. The child fell and was killed.

Researchers have speculated that the tortured spirit of a deranged son of a onetime housekeeper at the homestead was imprisoned in a small room of the house. He died of neglect and starvation. They attribute the vicious attacks on the animals to his ghost.

A piano is heard in an upstairs room yet no piano has been in the house for years. After the death or her husband Mrs Crawley transformed a box room into a small chapel a priest would visit her twice a week and pray. It is believed his widow only left the house on two occasions in the remaining 23 years of her life. Her ghost is reportedly seen in this room. Mrs Crawley was described as a hard woman who ruled the house with an iron fist.

The ghost of a boy is apparently seen in the stables, the story goes he was burned to death after his bed was set on fire as punishment for slacking.

It is believed by investigators that the activity in the Monte Cristo homestead is related to the original inhabitants the Crawley family. And that somehow they are a magnet to other spirits who now also occupy the house.

Although Reginald and Olive Ryan claim never to have seen a ghost in the house they do apparently feel their presence.

Monte Cristo has since earned the title of Australia's most haunted house and is a popular tourist destination that conducts ghost tours and bed and breakfast packages. For the Ryan's the years of hard work and ghost stories are finally paying off.

Ghost Rider or a Break in Line of Sight?


At the time of writing there is currently a media frenzy concerning the legend of the Lemon Tree Passage ghost. I personally have spoken to two local radio stations, Channel Nine News and NBN News. The story also seems to have gone international with the UK Daily mail reporting it on their website. Also there is a mention of it on the American Sy Fy Channel website as well. 

The story of the Lemon Tree Passage ghost (LTPG) goes back at least three years but more likely back some twenty years or more. I can safely assume that the media buzz was created by the various You Tube videos that have been posted by users showing the apparent appearance and disappearance of this “ghost” using mobile phone cameras and hand held digital movie cameras. The spin on the story which is the concern by the media that young inexperienced youths are traveling at very dangerously high speeds to try and catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

I first heard of this story a few years ago when a visitor to this site mentioned it to me in an email and asked if I had investigated it. At the time I had not and it was not until a few months ago another visitor to Unexplained Australia mentioned the story to me again. This visitor directed me to the few You Tube videos that were available at the time at this point only two or three had been uploaded. 

This prompted me and another Unexplained Australia team member to take a drive out and see if we could find the “ghost”. After scouting Google earth and looking for land marks in the current You Tube videos. I was fairly certain I had the right part of the road.

We did a few dry runs to see if we could see the “ghost” I personally saw the light appear and disappear twice in the rear vision mirror before we started filming. I was not traveling fast and as far as I can remember. John then got in the drivers seat and I got in the back of the car strapped myself in and pointed our video camera out the back window. We did the same run three times and video taped our entire experiment. What resulted were the Unexplained Australia You Tube videos that you can see online now. Only a week or so later the media frenzy began. Now I am not saying it was because of our video that this buzz occurred. But what I will say is our video at the time was the only one which was trying to logically explain the apparent phenomena. I received my first phone call to discuss the LTPG with Newcastle’s KO FM Radio Station the next week.


Urban Myths and Rumors about the LTPG:

Must have P plates on the car to see the “ghost.” (Or be a Provisional licence holder)

Must be under a certain age 25? 

Must be doing in excess of 100 km ph 

Must be late at night 

The ghost’s purpose is to warn people to slow down when traveling too fast.

The “ghost” is that of a 20 year old man who was killed on a motorcycle traveling along this particular road.


Some things to consider about the apparent paranormal origins of the LTPG.

“Ghost” only appears when heading towards Lemon Tree Passage (east) not heading the other direction towards Newcastle (west).

“Ghost” is only seen in the dark.

“Ghost” only is seen to appear then disappear whilst driving.

“Ghost” not seen when standing still on side of road not traveling.

“Ghost” seems to disappear as it reaches the eastern end of Brownes Road Street Light.


The supposed back story of the LTPG I believe is a possible merging of two actual events. Both involving the death of motorcycle riders. According to a contact I have within the Emergency services two deaths have occurred along Lemon Tree Passage Road involving motor cyclists. 

The first accident occurred in the late 1980’s (possibly 1987) Involving two 20 year old men. One the rider of the bike the other the Pillion passenger. My contact was unsure as to what caused the accident but the pillion passenger was killed in the accident. The rider lost one of his legs and subsequently died many years later. Perhaps unrelated to the accident. 

The second accident involving a motor cycle rider along Lemon Tree Passage Road occurred 26 Nov 2007. This incident seems to be what most people associate with the “ghost”. Again according to my contact. An unregistered, uninsured 20 year old trail bike rider was traveling north-east along Lemon Tree Passage Road near the Tanilba Bay commemorative stone gates. A young female provisional licence holder traveling in the opposite direction indicated and turned right into the Tanilba Bay turnoff. Because her vision was obscured by the Sunset (it was around dusk) she did not see the young trail bike rider coming towards her since he had no headlight on his motor cycle. The young rider hit (T-boned) the side of her 4wd. He was killed instantly.

So what is the LTPG?

In my opinion from the experiment we conducted. As seen in our You Tube video. The LTPG is simply regular Car and or Motorbike headlights. Which are initially seen in the rear vision mirror of the vehicle you may be traveling in? 

A light will appear approximately 500m to 1km behind you (maybe further) whilst traveling north-east along LTP Road. (And again I will state that you don’t not have to go over the speed limit of 90kmph to see it) This road is very long and straight but does have a slight bend in it. As you are traveling and the vehicle behind you is traveling as well as your vehicle goes around the slight bend. It is then the light seems to disappear. It effectively leaves your line of sight. Keep in mind that the vehicle behind you is still a good distance away. I am fairly certain that the terrain i.e. the trees and bushland obscures the light.

If you leave the experiment there it does appear quite creepy and very convincing. You’d be forgiven to think that the ghost light has disappeared. Until you pull over on the side of the road and wait a few minutes. Eventually and every time we did this a vehicle eventually came past. See diagram below.


At the X labelled “Started here” we would pull over wait for a light to appear and drive off heading north-east. The light would follow until it “appeared” to reach the X labelled “Street light” then promptly disappear. We would pull over at the X labelled “Stopped here”. Wait a few minutes and a light would reappear a vehicle would always come past. We did this three times in succession with the same results. If you get out of your car stand still and face south-west and look at the “Street Light” no cars disappear, cars just appear around the bend as they would on any other road. Hence the reason why you have to be driving to see the light disappear because at this point any oncoming traffic is obscured by the terrain and bushland.



This unusual but easily explained phenomenon combined with the two motorcycle accidents which have most likely have been combined from Chinese Whispers plus of word of mouth have created an Urban Legend. If this legend has any paranormal legitimacy at all the accident that occurred in 2007 is another good kilometre down the road from where this phenomenon occurs. The other motorcycle accident which occurred over twenty years ago was actually closer to where the supposed ghost appears. However I am satisfied by our investigation which clearly proves that the “Ghost Light” is simply a “Break in the line of Sight”.



Copyright: Murray Byfield 2010