Sleep Paralysis and Extraordinary Experiences

Sleep paralysis (SP) is a phenomenon which is experienced during falling asleep or awakening. In the terminology of sleep medicine, it has been classified as a parasomnia. SP can be a symptom of narcolepsy; however, it also can monosymptomatically occur as isolated sleep paralysis (ISP). Persons concerned are in a conscious state while the whole body is paralyzed with the exception of eye muscles, and muscles of respiration. Additionally, extraordinary experiences often appear. Examples are: severe feelings of anxiety, the perception of threatening, malevolent, or evil presences in the room, or other hallucinations in sensory modalities (buzzing and humming sounds, voices, footsteps, feelings of floating, lights, right up to detailed visual perceptions of persons, ghostly entities, or extraterrestrials). The paralysis usually lasts a few seconds or minutes. However, there are reports of prolonged experiences. Some people use SP as a method to induce positive experiences like, for example, lucid dreams, or out-of-body experiences.

Although sleep paralysis is an intercultural, and quite frequently occurring, phenomenon there is still relatively few knowledge about its prevalence, about coping with the associated extraordinary experiences, but also about its clinical relevance in Germany. As part of a pilot study, a comprehensive review of existing literature had been carried out. Additionally, an online survey at German sleep laboratories had been conducted in order to get an impression of the clinical relevance of SP in the context of clinical treatments of parasomnias.

In a subsequent step, an online survey with concerned persons will be carried out with regard to interpretation, and biographic integration of the associated extraordinary experiences as well as fears of, and dangers from, social stigmatization.

Fuhrmann, M. & Mayer, G. (2016). Schlafparalyse. Phänomenologie - Deutungen - Coping. Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, 16(3), 275-306.

Project leadership: Dr. Gerhard Mayer

Research associate: Max Fuhrmann