In the past few years a strange online community has developed. Just one thing brings this community together – their shared experiences with a medication called Diphenhydramine – otherwise known as Benydril, or Nytol. Many members of the community claim to be addicted to it, and often report their creepy experiences from taking it. Believe it or not, the medication can cause hallucinations when taken in higher doses – but the delusions it causes are notoriously dark. These dark delusions typically take the form of a mysterious type of creature known as shadow people. Worst of all is the hat man.

The Hat Man

A shadowy figure of a large man wearing a distinct hat, users all across the world claim to have been visited by him while high on the substance. It is said to be incredibly vivid, as if a real intruder is in your house. The description is always the same – a tall shadowy hat wearing man who watches you. Some claim he watched from a distance, while others claim he stood over them. To make it worse, people that far into the experience usually also have a form of sleep paralysis. So as the hat man emerges from the shadows, they are unable to move.

The hat man phenomena cannot currently be explained. We just don’t know how so many from different cultures experience the same vision. But reports of him date back to at least the early 2000s. So as you might expect, many genuinely believe he is real. As it happens, the hat man is very similar to a much older kind of creatures from folklore – shadow people.

Shadow People

For thousands of years mythology has told of shadow people – from the native Americans to the ancient Chinese, and everywhere in between. Even today many people report encounters – most of them giving the exact same description – a shadowy humanoid figure, like a person who is pitch black, emerging from the darkness of night. In many cases people claim to hear a loud noise, and feel an oppressive energy from the shadow being. Usually it sounds like static, or a low buzzing noise. One way encounters tend to differ is the presence of eyes. While most people tell of a figure with a featureless pitch black face, some claim the darkness was penetrated by two glowing red eyes.

It is generally thought the ones with eyes are the most dangerous – perhaps that they are demons, while the eyeless ones are merely ghosts. I would personally assume the opposite – I trust creatures without eyes less than those who have them – as for blind people I’m mildly skeptical. As with the hat man, shadow people tend to be dismissed as a delusion associated with sleep paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis

If you’re not familiar with sleep paralysis, it’s an experience where people are only half asleep – where you are fully conscious but unable to move your body. It is a terrifying experience, but one that is well known to medicine, and can be easily explained. Still, while in sleep paralysis, victims often see mysterious figures like shadow people.

In less scientific times it was believed you were unable to move because some kind of evil creature was on top of you. More specifically, it’s a creature known as a night hag, a mysterious beast said to take pleasure in beating those unable to move. Today we know better than to believe in the night hag – but even so, it remains a truly scary experience.

Beyond Sleep Paralysis

Most scary of all it that, at one point in their life, up to 50 percent of people experience sleep paralysis. And so sleep paralysis is used to explain away all kinds of phenomenon – from claims of alien abduction to paranormal encounters. But to me that’s a bit too convenient of an explanation. Yes, it would explain away many cases of shadow people – but not even close to all of them. Anywhere you find darkness in the world, people have claimed to witness a shadow person. So a better answer might be psychology.

The human brain is known to seek out known shapes and patterns. We see things that are not there. For example this teapot that looks like Hitler. Or this natural rock formation on Mars that looks like a face. Most encounters with shadow people only last for a few seconds, which in my view would suggest they are just people seeing things that aren’t there.

Yet neither this factor, not sleep paralysis actually disproves the existence of shadow people. Another theory is that shadow people are inter-dimensional beings – that they are physical creatures like we are, but from a different dimension. Perhaps it is some kind of shadow realm, where all beings are pure dark. Or maybe they appear shadowy simply because they are not entirely within our own dimension.


Arabian folklore has long told of an invisible creature parallel dimension to our own. Yet thanks to their magical powers they are able to appear in our own. Like humans, they are neither inherently good nor bad, possessing free will, and being driven by their own desire. Known as Djinn, they were created by god from smokeless fire. Even while in our dimension, they are normally invisible. But on occasion they reveal themselves. Good Djinn typically have no need to interact with us – so most encounters are ominous in nature.

Perhaps this is why they are broadly seen as evil. This would also explain why shadow people seem to radiate negative energy – if in fact they are Djinn. And since Djinn are able to take on different forms, it would also explain why some have glowing eyes. Belief in Djinn seems to pre-date Islam, and nobody really knows what their origin is – just like shadow people. This is just one theory behind shadow people, and there are many other folkloric beings that people suggest could explain them.

The Sleep Study

As always, there is fierce debate among those who believe they have encountered shadow people. Some of them reject a mythological explanation. Instead, they point to an alleged scientific study called GR16. Said to have been done in 1971, the study focused on those who claimed to regularly see shadow people. The goal was to track their brain activity as they sleep. Several hours went by, and all was well. But then the subjects grew agitated, as if having nightmares – and suddenly, they died. No cause of death was identified.

Decades later, news of the study went viral online, with many considering it proof of shadow people, speculating they killed their victims to avoid the study revealing their existence. However, No record of the study can be found, and in my opinion it is just an urban legend.

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