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The mystery of the midnight knock


Went to sleep around 2 a.m. last night, after thinking to myself how nice it was that my house is so quiet that I no longer need to sleep with earplugs.

Sometime around 3:30, was awakened from what I think was a kind of distressing dream (though I don't remember anything about it) by three loud impatient knocks on my door.

Woke me up instantly, but not into any sort of clarity. I was just barely awake enough to think a couple of things:

  • Someone is trying to break into my house, and they're knocking first to see whether anyone's home or wakeable. (Notice how it didn't occur to me that there might be some kind of emergency that a neighbor would need my attention for. Maybe I subconsciously assumed there would've been a doorbell in that case.)
  • I left my motion-sensitive porch light off earlier, so if it's really a knock, they're standing out there in the dark. (Scary!)
  • It's probably not a knock. Maybe the pole I left in the kitchen (for changing high light bulbs) fell over.
  • My laptop is probably in the living room, where anyone who breaks in could easily find and steal it.
  • If I immediately go back to sleep, I won't sleep well, fretting about this.
  • Getting my chair over to my room door to block the door will be more logistically difficult than I can handle right now.

I also turned my phone on just in case I needed to dial 911 in a hurry.

Eventually I dragged myself out of bed. Got halfway across the room, realized the laptop in question was in my room, realized my full laundry basket was next to the room door and could block it. Peered out into the dark hallway, saw nothing unusual.

Closed my room door, put laundry basket in front of it, stumbled back to bed, fell immediately asleep.

Until 6:30 or so, when I was awakened by the sound of lightly squealing door hinges followed by a small thud, as if someone had abruptly swung a door partway open and run it into something solid.

I think at that point I was too exhausted to even try to figure out whether someone had just tried to get into my room. I think I fell back asleep quickly.

When I woke up again, I looked around the house. No sign of anyone opening any doors. No sign of anything having fallen. Nothing on my front door or porch.

Maybe something banged against the outer wall of my bedroom? Maybe it was an animal on the roof? Maybe it was an earthquake? No idea.

It's also possible that I dreamed both sounds. They certainly didn't feel like dreams, but I don't have a better explanation.

And this has happened before, a year and a half ago, at my old place. (Woke up to loud knocking, fell asleep again, woke up later to sound of someone walking around my house.) Which seems to lend credence to the dream theory.

Still a little disoriented. Perhaps I'll take a nap later.


A few years ago I woke to the distinct sensation of someone sitting beside me on the bed and the duvet pulling tight around me. This was extremely alarming since I live alone (not even a cat now) and I do *not* believe in supernatural explanations. It was a real heart-pounding moment and it took me a while to convince myself that the house was empty and quiet and to get back to sleep.

Later in the day I figured it out. When I awoke, it was with an immediate understanding of what I was feeling, but not much else and it took a real effort to actually make it to physical movement. That eventually clued me in that this was sleep paralysis and I suspected at the time that what triggered the alarming sensation was a muscle spasm of some sort in my side which my body translated into something dragging my body down. Looking at this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/oct/02/sleep-paralysis it may just be the pressure that's part of the phenomenon. It also mentions auditory hallucinations as being common. ;)

A couple of nights later it happened again and though I woke with the same sensation of fear (and this time I think it was noises rather than pressure) and the same struggle to make it to full awareness, even as I was struggling my brain was going - 'oh, bloody sleep paralysis again!' LOL.

It seems the most likely explanation and it's not a pleasant thing to experience, but it's apparently quite normal for many people to only ever suffer from one or two episodes. Hope that helps and makes some kind of sense.

Thanks for the note, Charlie! I too have had a kind of "someone is right there" sensation—I think for me it involved a big dog, either thinking it was standing beside the bed and nudging me, or thinking it was lying on the bed next to me, or something like that. (It's happened a couple of times, but not in a while, and I'm not remembering details.)

I've also a couple of times experienced the sensation that the entire bed was vibrating every time my heart beat; it hadn't occurred to me that that was related, but it sounds in keeping with some of the sleep-paralysis symptoms listed in the article.

Anyway, fascinating article; thanks for linking to it!

...And now I wonder whether my devil incident as a kid was a related kind of phenomenon. It wasn't quite the same as what the article is describing, but possibly connected.

I think, as the article indicates, that the knowledge about the phenomenon is limited by the people who actually report events. Thus only the most extreme examples make it into the data with milder forms being dismissed as dreams or spiritual events. Yes, your devil incident sounds a likely candidate! :) I find this kind of example of the power of the brain to warp our personal reality fascinating.

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