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Shadow figures and their ties to sleep disorders

Shadow figure is the term used in the paranormal field to describe an entity, usually of supernatural origin, who manifests in the shape of a human, with limited, observable features.

It appears in most of the reports only as a shadow. Its dimensions can vary in size from few feet tall and long limbs, much like Slender Man


A shadow person — a.k.a. a shadow figure, shadow being or black mass — is the interpretation of shadow as a living, human form. It is commonly reported as a black human-like shape that moves fast and is often spotted out of the corner of the eye. It has been interpreted as a ghost, demon, alien, time traveller or inter-dimensional being as per Aaron Sagers’ definition on


The idea of a paranormal entity representing itself as only a dark mass is nothing new: the jinn manifested as a shadow figure in Islamic folklore. Another example includes the soul-eating Nalusa Chito or Impa Shilup of Choctaw folklore.

In recent years, we saw the emergence of a new concept, thanks to the influence of creepypasta and subsequent movies. The Slender Man is a concept that does share similarities with the shadow figure.

Whether Slender Man is just a reboot of the shadow figure or a highly influenced version is debatable, but as per the general definition, Slender Man is a very thin and unnaturally tall humanoid figure. He has no features on his face and is wearing a black suit. His intentions seem to revolve around stalking, traumatizing and even kidnapping children, depending on the source material.


No matter what paranormal phenomenon you investigate, always try to debunk it. That is a key rule in providing some weight to your discoveries.

When it comes to shadow figures, several normal — as opposed to paranormal — explanations should be explored:

  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Sleep Paralysis
  • Brain stimulation

Sleep deprivation

Some of the known side effects of sleep deprivation are the lack of alertness and cognitive performance, which could cause a decrease in brain function.

These effects occur in the thalamus, the part of the brain involved with alertness and attention, as well as the prefrontal cortex, a region impacting alertness, attention, and higher-order cognitive processes.

Sleep deprivation can cause a subject to fall into a mental state similar to psychosis. It distorts perceptions that could translate into inappropriate or inadequate emotional and behavioural responses, as well as tachycardia, depression, false memory, increased stress and hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations.

Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a benign condition, but certainly terrifying for someone to experience. It is defined as a state when someone is in between sleep and waking, during which a person is fully aware but unable to move or speak. During that time the victim may experience visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations. It is believed that it could be tied to a dysfunctional mechanism during the REM sleep cycle.

There have been many reports on the subject, with several of them reports discussing testimonies. They describe the victim observing a shadow figure by their bed while being unable to move or speak. It is more than likely that some of these reports of a shadow figure could be the result of sleep paralysis.

Brain stimulation

The human brain is a very complex computer. For example, the cerebrum controls speech, judgment, reasoning, problem-solving, emotions and learning, as well as coordinates movements and regulates the temperature of our body. The cerebellum coordinates voluntary muscle movements and is used to maintain posture, balance and equilibrium.

The frontal lobe of the brain is involved in personality, decision making and movement. The parietal lobe identifies objects and helps understand spatial relationships, whereas the temporal lobe manages short-term memory and speech.

The brain works, controls and communicates with the body by sending electrical and chemical signals throughout the body the spine and the nervous system. We’re only human, so it’s okay to assume that our brains are not 100 percent accurate and that some misfires could happen.

So what could cause an incorrect signal to be sent?

According to a study conducted by the University of Cambridge, published in the “American Journal of Psychiatry,” misfires from the brain could trigger events such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The study showed that “the caudate nucleus, a brain region that must fire correctly for us to be in control of our habits – is overactive when OCD symptoms are incited in patients,” causing misfire or incorrect signals to be sent out.

Another study, conducted by scientists, at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Tex. concluded that “Two medical problems caused by misfiring electrical signals, epilepsy and heart arrhythmia, probably have a common molecular cause.” In this case, the potassium ion channel.

An experiment was able to recreate the shadow figure phenomenon by stimulating the brain’s left hemisphere in a test subject. Scientists were able to simulate that creepy feeling of somebody was being close by, also known as tactile hallucinations. The experiment was performed as a result of focal electrical stimulation of the left temporoparietal junction of the brain in a person with epilepsy. The idea behind this is that perceptions may have been due to a disturbance in the multisensory processing of the body at the temporoparietal junction, as per a document published on the social network for scientists, Researchgate.

Medical studies have confirmed that the brain can send incorrect electrical or chemical messages, causing a variety of misfires. All hallucinations, auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory or gustatory, affect the five senses.

According to Aubrey Moe, a psychologist at OSU’s Early Psychosis Intervention Center, several medical conditions could provide a source for these hallucinations. Some are schizophrenia, medication and substance abuse, brain trauma, delirium, fever, neurological diseases, kidney failure, epilepsy, narcolepsy and eating disorders, dehydration.

Further explanations

After exploring rational explanations, and find yourself in a position where you are still unable to provide a physical set of causes to explain an event, you should start to look at the paranormal.

Poltergeist activity

In paranormal lore, a poltergeist is a type of entity associated with physical disturbances, including loud noises and objects being moved and displaced only to reappear sometimes later, knocking on doors, furniture being moved or levitated.

One intriguing theory about poltergeists is that paranormal activity is caused by a person, usually the resident of the allegedly haunted location. This person unconsciously triggers the phenomena. The konnen — a word I borrowed from the German verb konnen (to be able to or can) — is usually a teenager or a young adult, usually suffering from a current or past traumatic event. There is a build-up of negative energy inside and they are unable to deal with it. This energy is released unconsciously by the konnen in the form of poltergeist phenomena.

Knowing that this individual is capable of triggering such phenomena, it wouldn’t be unthinkable that we could manifest a shadow figure ourselves.

Shadow figure

If none of the previous hypotheses can be used to explain the phenomenon you are experiencing, then you may be dealing with an actual shadow figure.

Shadow figures do seem to be pretty nefarious paranormal entities, most often associated with the manifestation of dark entities.

Visual manifestations, for the most part, can also be witnessed in conjunction with electronic voice phenomenons. You may also experience a drop in temperature reading, a cold draft or even static electricity. Make sure to take as many pictures as possible, in an attempt to capture the entire process from manifestation and stagnation to dissipation.

When researching through archives to determine the possible identity of the shadow figure, do not limit yourself to negative human beings, as this could be the manifestation chosen by a spirit to cover its true identity and scare the current resident.

Also, never underestimate the power of an entity. Keep in mind that elementals could have the energy to manifest and disguise themselves as shadow figures, as well as darker entities such as demons.

Anton Buchberger
Paranormal Researcher, Founder & Lead Investigator
‪Instagram: @Pandemoniumantonj
Twitter: @GacPandemonium

Photo from The Nightmare courtesy of Zipper Brothers Films

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