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Why Monsters Sit On Your Chest and Try to Strangle You

Brazilians speak in hushed tones about an ugly monster – sometimes a giant man, sometimes an old hag, sometimes a scary demon – that sneaks into bedrooms while they’re sleeping, sits on their chests and presses down on their throats so that they wake up gasping for breath and unable to move. It turns out versions of the same tale are told in many countries by many cultures about many monsters. While science has not developed a get-this-monster-off-of-my-chest cure, it has come up with an explanation for them.

A depiction of a Pisadeira

A depiction of a Pisadeira

In Brazil, the monster is called Pisadeira and is most often described as an old hag with long fingers who jumps down from roofs onto the chests of unsuspecting sleepers. In Portugal, Pisadeira is sometimes depicted as old man (sadly, a Friar) and occasionally sits on the full belly of children rather than on their chests. In Spain, it’s a large black dog or cat. The indigenous people of Canada believe the creature is a shapeless demon created by an evil shaman. Nigerians describe it as a scary old woman while the Japanese say it’s a male spirit trying to suffocate his enemies. In Cambodia, it’s a “khmaoch sângkât” – “the ghost that pushes you down.” Victims all say they can see the monster or spirit but can’t move or breath until it finally goes away.

Pisadeira waiting on the roof

Pisadeira depicted waiting on the roof

What sort of monsters are all of these people waking up to find on their chest, stealing their breath away?

With so many of the stories coming from Brazil, researchers there led by José F. R. de Sá of the Jungian Institute of Bahia in Brazil decided to collect the stories, conduct some research and find the reason. According to the study, published in September in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the cause of Pisadeira and her scary friends is … sleep paralysis.

Wait ... what?

Wait … what?

Disappointed? You shouldn’t be. Sleep paralysis is a mysterious physical and mental state that is slowly explaining away a lot of scary nightmares, out-of-body and near-death experiences and alien abductions. Now it’s the reason for Pisadeira and other folklorish tales told to explain the unexplainable. As the study points out, sleep paralysis removes the ability to move while causing visual hallucinations, feelings of chest pressure, delusions of a physical and frightening presence in the room and a fear of impending doom. With all of this happening when the person is usually alone and in the dark, it’s no wonder the study found such a variety of different sorts of monsters that have been created to explain it.


Unfortunately, no matter which Pisadeira you find sitting on your chest and choking you to death, the only cure is waking up. The purpose of the study was not to remove the monsters but study them and “enrich the knowledge about these experiences and their psychological and cultural aspects.”

Remember that the next time you wake up with an old hag on your chest trying to strangle you.


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  • Krater

    I am a 38 year old male. When I was 15, living in Omaha, Nebraska, I awoke in the night to someone in my room. “He” (I never assumed that he was anything more than human) was standing to my left against the wall about 10 feet away and in shadow. His hands were raised in front of his chest as if he were holding and examining something. He was dressed in a run-of-the-mill surgical outfit; aqua blue gown, matching cap, white latex gloves and a surgical mask. Lying flat on my back with my arms at my sides, I could not move. The paralysis felt like a fear based paralysis, but I could not calm down or break it. I could move only my eyeballs and lids as the person began to approach from the left side of my bed.

    It was at this moment that my eyes darted toward my torso and I saw a horrible thing sitting on my thighs, leaning forward a bit and holding my arms at the wrist. It looked like a deformed little person. It’s skin was dark brown, almost black, and moist/oily looking. It’s features were not symmetrical at all; yellow eyes of different sizes and positions; grotesque pulsing lumps on its head, arms and torso; odd small patches of hair here and there. As I made eye contact with it, it gave me a sinister, crooked, sharp toothed grin that let me know that it was in control of me and there was nothing I could do about it. I knew at that moment that demons were real.

    The surgeon is now at my side. I am terrified to see a scalpel in his right hand as it descends toward my left chest. With a slow, steady movement, I see and feel the blade slice through the bottom of my left pectorals skin in an arc shaped incision. It doesn’t really hurt, but I am terrified. Scalpel still in hand, he folds back the flap of skin. Rips back is more appropriate. It felt like my chest was on fire. I wanted to scream, but could not. He reaches into the laceration with his left hand and pulls a piece of muscle up while cutting it free at both ends. The pulling and burning sensation are excruciating. I black out.

    I wake up gasping in terror. It is sunrise and I see small spots of fresh blood on my white t-shirt that I always slept in. In the bathroom, I take off my shirt and see what resembles a cat scratch in the exact same position and arc as the incision from my “night terror”. It is fresh and welted up with tiny drops of fresh blood still oozing out as I wipe them away.

    Most disturbing is that, to this day, I have no lower pectoral muscle on my left side, just a 2 inch long by 1 inch tall depression.

    Being the skeptical logical person that I am and have always been, I try to convince myself that this was an extreme case of sleep paralysis/night terror accompanied by a psychosomatic response, but I gotta tell ya…deep down, i don’t believe that and I am still scared to death of sleeping at night.
    I’ve never told anyone this story and I’d really like to get a medical explanation, but have always been to afraid to talk about it, both out of fear of ridicule and fear of the thought that it might happen again.

  • Paulo Freitas

    Very cool seeing a Brazil-related article.

    Also nice that you spelled the name of José F. R. de Sá correctly, with the correct accent marks.

  • Nelson Delgado

    You should read forbidden knowledge by Jason Quitt. Who has had such experiences, it could help you to find the path to empowerment. You are not confined to your body, humans by nature are not limited to the physical. Those being will fear you when they discover you have the ability to disconnect from your body and use the divine source they fear most. This book will provide examples, then you can read the first half of The Inner Guide Meditation, that book will allow you to access assistance from the divine sources closest to you. To protect you from such negative beings. Once you’ve practiced and gained the knowledge you need. Ph. D Joshua Stone’s The Complete Ascension manual will empower you to to be free of what troubles you and experience true freedom and access great wisdom from “the source” .

    I will ask that your path be most benevolent

    Good Life to you…

  • JB Turnstone

    Check out “The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained” by Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey Kripal. A similar encounter is recounted in that book.

  • Lance Payette

    The definitive work on this phenomenon is The Terror That Comes In the Night by David J. Hufford. Hufford’s book is non-sensationalistic but recognizes that the phenomenon cannot always be easily dismissed as hypnagogic or hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
    I have had two episodes of this myself – in more than 65 years of living – with both of them occurring in mid-afternoon within the space of a week. The notable feature is the strong and terrifying sense of being in the presence of Pure Evil. Although I have experienced other anomalous phenomena, I have never experienced anything else like it. Perhaps significantly (or not), we had just moved into a new house on an old ranch in Indian country; in other words, no house had ever been located on that property before. I would be delighted to chalk up the experience to mere sleep paralysis, but I have my doubts.

  • Krater

    I will definitely check it out. I see it’s free on Amazon Prime, but only on kindle and fire devices…too bad. I’ll just have to order one.
    Thank you for the reccomendation!

  • Krater

    Thank you for the kind words. I will definitely research Mr. Quitt.

  • Ashley

    Your summary explains a lot for me, Robert. I’ve always felt that what I perceived as “something” paranormal was indeed just that and not SP. It’s quite annoying reading people’s encounters and automatically their story is explained away with SP.

    Only one time, have I ever experienced this unknown type of fear. Okay, several months ago, I was taking a catnap. All I remember is waking up and I cannot move. My eyes I’m looking around as best I can, it feels like I’m being watched, observed. And the feeling that rushes over me is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I’m petrified, almost nauseous. It really is hard to explain how scared I was. I cannot see anyone, there is no noise but the soft wind from my fan blowing. Immediately, I begin praying to our dear Heavenly Father in my head. And as soon as whatever you call this experience had started, it stopped just as fast. I sat up in bed thinking what the hell just happened? Unfortunately, I never payed any attention to the clock. But the whole thing seemed merely lasting only minutes.

    Just like it describes in Paul’s article, a lot of people witness seeing something, a ghost maybe or a demon? Sometimes, even hearing their own names being called. I honestly have no idea what it is I experienced, just hoping I never have to feel that type of fear ever again.

  • Joe Yao

    I have 2 memories of old hag syndrome. One was when i was in college doing our thesis, and one when i am already working. In between that i started lucid dreaming. So when the 2nd old hag occured, as i recall a strange lady was beside my bed where i was lying down. As soon as i saw her, i was scared then i realized it was just a dream, using my lucid dreams experience i told myself i have to fight it, so i suddenly grab the neck of the old hag, then she dissappear and i woke up. Up to now i havent had old hag agsin. But whenever i feel like it is going to occur in my dream, i try to remind myself of lucid

  • Eric Hinkle

    I’ve dealt with the Old Hag again and again, it usually seems to come and go with years between episodes and then several back to back over a period of weeks to months.

    Also recently found out that it seems to run on both sides of the family — my maternal grandmother used to have dreams about a shadow man coming into her bedroom and strangling her; and at least one uncle dreamed of a ‘dead woman’ coming down from his old farmhouse attic and choking him. Went on for years until he finally fought back; wrecked the bedroom but he never saw her again.