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Sleep Paralysis

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General Psychology Reflection Paper on the Sleep paralysis in adolescents: The ‘a dead body climbed on top of me’ phenomenon in Mexico The authors for this scholarly article, “Sleep paralysis in adolescents: The ‘a dead body climbed on top of me’ phenomenon in Mexico.” are Alejandro Jimenez-Genchi, Victor M. Avila-Rodriguez, Frida Sanchez, Blanca E. Vargas Terrez, and Alejandro Nenclares-Portocarrero. The article is from the Journal of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, volume 63, pages 546-549 and was available online last 2009. Sleep paralysis (SP) is characterized by the incapability to move for a short period of time at the early stages of sleep. Some cultures use colloquial expressions to describe the SP experience. In Mexico, Mexicans uses the expression ‘a dead body climbed on top of me’ to depict a phenomenon that seems to be equivalent to SP. The aim of this study is to identify the rate and characteristics of SP in adolescents using a folk expression.

Since the phenomenon is most often seen in adolescence, the researchers invited 322 adolescents from different high schools in Mexico City to participate. They completed an Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) and an SP questionnaire which asks if they already heard about the phenomenon and have experienced it. With all the gathered data, the researchers were shocked to find out that 92.5% of the participants heard about the phenomenon while 27.6% of them had experienced it. 61% had experienced 2 or more episodes during their lifetime. The difference and similarities of this colloquial expression and sleep paralysis is emphasized in the discussion part. Folk descriptions are said to capture motor and hallucinatory nature of SP while clinical descriptions capture only the motor features. If only essential features of SP which is the inability to move or speak were considered, researchers would obtain a lower prevalence rate in the whole sample. Surprisingly, rates in this study are consistent to the rate of other studies which involves SP expressed using a colloquial expression like in China and Japan. There are certain factors that limit the credibility of this study.

First, data were obtained from erratic sample of adolescents which belongs to a population that uses a colloquial expression in referring to SP. Second, data were based from self-reported questionnaires completed by the adolescents which are consisting of questions that sometimes are misinterpreted. Discrepancies in this study are unavoidable because of the method used by the researchers. It leads to a conclusion that the SP is frequently experienced by adolescents which is sometimes accompanied by hallucinations. Of all the sleep disorders known to man, sleep paralysis is the least understood (Hurd, 2010). Sleep Paralysis is a normal, natural bodily function that causes our physical bodies to be paralyzed during sleep (Peterson, 2005). It is misinterpreted as an abnormal or scary experience because of the presence of its essential feature characterized by the inability to move or speak. Sleep paralysis (SP) is a phenomenon where the muscles are paralyzed which causes the body unable to move. It occurs during the early stages of REM sleep or even upon awakening.

The phenomenon only lasts for a minute or two but even though it’s only lasting for a short period of time and is said to be normal, experiencing SP might be really frightening. The main reason why we experience sleep paralysis is that it prevents us to act out our dreams or hurt ourselves while dreaming by paralyzing the muscles. It is when our minds are fully-awake and conscious to the surroundings but your body is paralyzed. SP usually happens when our brains responds faster than our body. What makes SP more terrifying is the presence of hallucinations which is most of the time appears in scary forms. Two years ago since the first time I had knowledge and heard about SP. Since then, my curiosity didn’t stopped bothering me about SP and its nature. I have so many questions in my mind that until I did this study remained unanswered like “How that is possible that your mind is fully-awake but your body is unable to move?” “What does it feels like?” “Why and when does it happen?” etc. I started to look for information and facts about SP to satisfy my curiosity. I didn’t fail to find such things that made SP more interesting to study.

I was more amazed when I found out that SP is used in introducing yourself to lucid dreaming. I was struck by the article I’ve read on a blog site that you can be able to control your dreams and your soul will be separated from your body. I was so fascinated that even I wanted to experience it without knowing what the danger of SP might bring. And so with that, I started to dig deeper facts about SP because my previous sources might be unreliable. I didn’t waste this opportunity to know more about what I like to find out. When we were asked to have our reflection about an article which is related to Psychology, I thought about this because I know that I can make a good one because I’m interested with it. As I started to look for more reliable sources, I found out that my previous knowledge about the phenomenon is wrong. Before, I thought that SP is an amazing experience but when I visited personal blogs of people narrating their SP experience, they said that it is the scariest thing that happened to them.

For someone like me who haven’t experienced SP yet, describing it is really a hard task. I even have to consult personal blogs and use my imagination. In the journal article that I’ve used, researchers have found out that SP is most common in adolescents. The rates of Mexican adolescents who experienced SP are consistent to the rates of other studies about adolescents in Japan and China experiencing the same phenomenon. Sleep paralysis occurs most often after jet lag or periods of sleeplessness that interrupt the normal REM patterns, or after changes in sleep patterns. It affects both sexes equally and occurs at all ages but is most common in teenagers (MedTerms, 2011). Based from my understanding, teenagers are more prone to experience SP because its causes are most likely seen in them. An individual’s interpretation of SP may depend on their cultural explanation or the belief system of the person (Murphy & Egan, 2010). In the journal article I’ve chosen, chosen adolescents came from a country which uses a folk expression to describe the SP experience. Based on what I’ve read, I think that it affects the rates the researcher got. They think that they would get lower rates if the essential feature of SP is the only one considered. Clinical descriptions captures the motor features of SP while folk descriptions like the one being used by the Mexicans captures the motor and hallucinatory effect of SP.

I would also say that samples used in this experiment are not reliable enough especially with the method used in this study which is the survey method. We cannot overlook the fact that some questions might be misunderstood by the participants and since it is a take-home questionnaire, honesty among them is not guaranteed. The first time I saw the title of the article (‘A dead body climbed on top of me’), I was frightened. I think that there are certain reasons why they used that description. Based on some personal narrations of people who have experienced the phenomenon that I’ve read, the victim feels unable to move because of the feeling that something heavy is lying/sitting on them. The reason sleep paralysis may explain tales of ghosts and aliens is the strong sense of a presence, usually harmful, that victims commonly feel during an attack. They also report unusual kinesthetic sensations, such as feelings of being dragged out of bed, vibrating, flying or falling. These episodes can sometimes lead to full-blown out-of-body experiences (Evans & French, 2009). SP could be prevented but it cannot be escaped. It was said that a person will experience at least one episode during their lifetime.

SP is normal until it’s not a sign of narcolepsy. To the best of my knowledge, this happens more often upon waking up. Basically, your mind wakes up before your body does. Eventually, your body catches up to your mind and wakes up too. All we need to do to not to experience such creepy sleep disorders is not to disturb our sleep patterns and schedule. We should obtain complete hours of sleep especially us, teenagers who mostly experience SP. It’s alarming to experience two or more episodes of this phenomenon in our lifetime. Though it’s normal, it could be really terrifying to experience being paralyzed while we are asleep.


Bob Peterson (2005, August). What Everyone Should Know About Sleep Paralysis, AS and OBEs. From the World Wide Web: http://www.robertpeterson.org/asp.htm Gillian Murphy & Jonathan Egan (2010, March). Sleep Paralysis and Hallucinations: What Clinicans Need to Know. From the World Wide Web: http://www.lenus.ie/hse/bitstream/10147/111896/1/IPMarch2010.pdf Medical Terms (2009) Definition of Sleep Paralysis. From the World Wide Web: http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9806 Ryan Hurd (2010). The Sleep Paralysis Report. Retrieved 2010 from the World Wide Web:http://dreamstudies.org/wpcontent/uploads/2010/11/Sleep-Paralysis-Report-
2010.pdf Scientific American. Randolph W. Evans & Christopher French (2009, January). Ask the Brains: What Is Sleep Paralysis? From the World Wide Web: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ask-the-brains-sleep-paralysis

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