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Sleep Paralysis, Not From the Devil But Can Be Frightening


About 8 percent of the population experiences sleep paralysis, a condition which, in past centuries, was often believed to be caused by witches or the devil. A new review of the research from experts at Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania reveals that sleep paralysis is more prevalent among psychiatric patients and students, and that some individuals who experience sleep paralysis avoid sleeping because their condition is so disturbing.

Sleep paralysis can be distressing or pleasant

Sleep paralysis is a condition in which you feel like you are awake, but you are unable to move. Episodes occur in the stages between wakefulness and sleep and can last just a few seconds or up to several minutes.

Some individuals can see and hear things (hallucinations), but they are not able to respond physically to them. Sleep paralysis may occur only a few times during a person’s life, or as often as every night.

To discovery who is likely to experience sleep paralysis, Brian A. Sharpless, clinical assistant professor of psychology and assistant director of the psychological clinic at Penn State, evaluated 35 published studies that included a total of 36,533 individuals. About 20% of people reported having at least one episode of sleep paralysis, while some said they had it every night.

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When Sharpless looked at different groups, he found sleep paralysis was more common among nonwhites, and that nearly 35% of people with panic disorder, nearly 32% of psychiatric patients, and 28% of students reported having episodes. The three main types of hallucinations are out-of-body experiences or levitation, presence of an intruder, and pressure on the chest that can be accompanied by sexual or physical attack.

Although sleep paralysis is not a dangerous health problem, it can significantly disrupt people’s quality and quantity of sleep, leaving them sleep deprived. Individuals who have hallucinations as part of the condition may also be frightened and experience undue stress, especially if they feel as though they are being attacked, choked, or kidnapped. Sleep paralysis is not always a scary experience, however, as some people report it as being pleasant.

The causes of sleep paralysis are not known, although experts have noted some possible factors. They include a lack of sleep, fluctuating sleep schedules, sleeping on the back, use of certain medications, and the presence of other sleep problems such as narcolepsy or nighttime leg cramps.

Sharpless, who was joined in his research by Jacques P. Barber, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, said “I want to better understand how sleep paralysis affects people, as opposed to simply knowing that they experience it.” He plans to explore associations between sleep paralysis and post-traumatic stress disorder in the future.

Penn State

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons



I have had sleep paralysis twice as an adult...both times a scary experience. However, I realized after reading many articles, that I had many of these experiences as a child...all pleasant (regarding levitation). I am very interested to learn more.
Judith: Thank you for sharing your experiences with sleep paralysis. It is a fascinating topic, and I will investigate whether more has been published on the matter.
I have had sleep paralysis since I was a small child. If I fell asleep in the family room, one of my parents would carry me to bed and I was like a stiff board, so they would have to maneuver sideways through the halls and turn to get me into the doorway of my bedroom. Nobody knew it was sleep paralysis, they just thought I was weird. I always thought I was having out of body experiences because I would walk into other parts of the house and talk to family members who never answered back..then realized I needed to go back to my body. Then I would really wake up and walk in there and they would be in the same place that I saw them when I was sleeping but thought I was awake. Coincidental I guess. I have had every single event that everyone else has had, have seen the EXACT same beings that they have seen. Same exact description of the entities. I find it odd that we all see the EXACT same beings. I'm old now and still have them. Something interesting to note: I found out that taking colloidal silver and gold both worsen the experience, especially silver. Sulphur drugs ease the experience. And why did I put anonymous as my name? Because I want to say that I believe there is a portal in the center of the brain, and when these events occur, it has to do with electricity which is the reason we all have the buzzing right before the event.