You may not have heard of the Hat Man, but there’s a chance he’s found his way into your dreams once or twice. A spooky, shadowy figure often described as wearing a dark coat and a hat, the Hat Man is reported to appear in bedrooms when people are falling asleep or first waking up.

The Hat Man has officially become sleep paralysis lore and has been reported as being seen in that not-awake, not-asleep state all around the world, a note that has left many scientists scratching their heads.

Monsters, Demons, and Jinn — Oh, My!

Sleep paralysis has baffled scientists for centuries. The earliest clinical account of sleep paralysis dates back to 1664, when a Dutch physician described it as the “Incubus or the Night-Mare”affecting one of his patients.

Throughout the years, sleep paralysis has also been explained as the result of a black magic curse, mythical monsters, or even demons. Egyptians used to believe a jinn (“genie”) was behind sleep paralysis, while Indigenous people in South Africa believed it was caused by Tokoloshe (a dwarf-like water spirit). Likewise, the Turkish believed the Karabasan (spirit-like creatures) were behind the phenomenon.

Jinn, recognizable by their characteristic hooves, gather to battle with Faramarz.

Jinn, recognizable by their characteristic hooves, gather to battle with Faramarz. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Science of Sleep Paralysis

It wasn’t until the 20th century that scientists and physicians started to move away from the mythological explanations and looked into a physical explanation for the phenomenon. Although it remains poorly understood, sleep paralysis is now believed to be caused by a brain glitch that disrupts an important signal.

During REM sleep, your body is paralyzed to prevent you from falling off the bed or acting out dreams that could result in you hurting yourself or others. This paralysis automatically switches off as you come out of REM sleep and start to wake up — but not in the case of sleep paralysis. Because of a glitch in your brain, your body remains in a paralyzed state as you wake, and refuses to move at all. It’s a strange, terrifying experience — and it often comes paired with hallucinations and the “appearance” of imaginary creatures, like the Hat Man.

Hats Off to Hat Man

The Hat Man is unique in one way, though. While different civilizations around the world once had their own version of a sleep-paralysis monster, Hat Man seems to pop up in many different places.

Even more intriguing, the description varies only slightly from one culture to another — he’s sometimes 6 feet tall and other times 10; his eyes might be bright red or deep pools of darkness; some people claim he carries a golden pocket watch or is “mist-like” rather than a solid figure. But everybody insists he’s wearing a trench coat–like jacket and wearing a very noticeable hat.

In most accounts, he’s also eerily quiet. He doesn’t touch you, try to attack you, or sit on your chest like other sleep paralysis “demons” are known to do. He often just stands in a corner of the room, watching you. Sometimes he hovers over your chest, examining you closely.

Who or What is the Hat Man?

Many consider the Hat Man to be a form of “shadow people,” dark humanoid figures that ufologists believe could be visitors from another planet. In an interview with Psychology Today, paranormal expert Rosemary Ellen Guiley points out that shadow people could potentially “wear hats and cowls to cover up imperfect heads.”

If you’re looking for a more scientific explanation, the Hat Man and other visual hallucinations connected to sleep paralysis are simple nightmares slipping into the waking world for a few seconds. For the majority of people, the break between REM sleep (where nightmares happen) and being awake is a very clear line. For those suffering from sleep paralysis, however, the line becomes blurry, and for a few seconds, you’re both in REM sleep and partially conscious — the perfect combination for nightmares to become just a bit too real.

Just in case, though, you might want to leave a light on tonight.

By Diana Bocco, contributor for


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