More research on sleep paralysis needed, experts say

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With the launch of a new documentary exploring the terrifying truth behind sleep paralysis, and survey results showing a third of people have experienced it, Goldsmiths’ experts have called for more research into the condition.

A scene from The Nightmare, directed by Rodney Ascher


Sleep paralysis is a natural and common phenomena where a person is unable to move, speak or react to their surroundings while falling asleep or waking. As the brain is still alert, many experience vivid nightmarish hallucinations, sensing mysterious seen or unseen figures and voices.

For many, these experiences can be extreme and disturbing made frightening by not understanding what is happening to them.

Commenting on a survey which found that 30 per cent of the UK population have experienced sleep paralysis, Professor Chris French and Professor Alice Gregory (Department of Psychology) said that more needs to be done to explore and promote understanding of the condition.

“The alarming finding that more than 30% of people would think that they were dying or having a stroke when experiencing symptoms of sleep paralysis chimes well with the notion that this is a largely unrecognised sleep disorder in the general population. This underscores a need to promote understanding of this relatively common experience,” said Professor Gregory.

On 9 October, Altitude Film Distribution released The Nightmare, a new film exploring sleep paralysis from director Rodney Ascher (Room 237).

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Professor French added: “There is no cure. We’re desperate to fund a PhD student to do research. Films like [The Nightmare] could help us get funding, but more vitally help sufferers who feel isolated by this distressing condition.”

Altitude Film Distribution – the company behind The Nightmare - commissioned a poll of 1000 UK residents to discover more about sleep paralysis in the UK. They found that:

  • 30% of the UK population have experienced sleep paralysis at least once.
  • Sleep paralysis is more common than colour blindness or being left handed.
  • Sleep paralysis is more prevalent in women and in 15-24 year olds.
  • 38% of those who have experienced sleep paralysis don’t understand it and attribute it to a having stroke, dying, being abducted by aliens or possessed by ghosts.
  • 40% of those who’ve experienced sleep paralysis think it’s just a bad dream.
  • 24% of people who experience sleep paralysis in the UK have it at least once a month.
  • If you are London based, you are also more likely to experience it.
Goldsmiths alumnus Dan Denis, who is currently working toward his PhD at the University of Sheffield, discusses sleep paralysis on 
Find out more about the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths. 
The Nightmare is in cinemas now and available on DVD from 26 October. 
Join the Goldsmiths APRU and Centre for Inquiry UK on Saturday 7 November at the 'Night School: The life-changing science of sleep' conference. Speakers include Richard Wiseman on the power of the sleeping mind, Caroline Watt on precognitive dreams, and Chris French and Carla MacKinnon on sleep paralysis. Details and tickets are available on the British Humanist Society website