Paranormal beliefs are associated with poor sleep, study finds

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Although conducted on a small scale, some studies have established significant associations between paranormal beliefs and certain sleep variables. A team from Goldsmiths College London recently looked into the question by involving a sample of over 8,800 participants. This new study suggests that people who strongly believe in paranormal phenomena are those who report more sleep disturbances.

This study was conducted by specialists in the anomalistic psychology a discipline that can be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behavior and experience, including (but not limited to) those that qualify as “paranormal”. The goal is to understand and explain these atypical experiences in terms of known psychological and physical factors. The Anomalistic Psychology Unit at Goldsmiths College was founded in 2000 by Professor Christopher French, co-author of this study and former editor of The Skeptic Magazine.

The paranormal is accepted as real by a large part of the population. A survey conducted by the DailyMail in 1998 showed that over 60% of Britons believed in the paranormal, and a survey by the Reader’s Digest conducted in 2006 revealed that one in five Britons believe they have seen a ghost, while almost half claim to have read the minds of others. This new study aimed to examine the links between paranormal beliefs (such as the existence of ghosts and demons, life after death, and alien visitation) and people’s sleep quality.


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Sleep paralysis considered a demonic manifestation

As the researchers explain, paranormal experiences — like seeing a ghost or an alien — are often experienced at night. This is undoubtedly the reason why several studies have revealed significant relationships between certain sleep variables and experiences and beliefs considered paranormal. For example, studies have suggested that people with strong spiritual and paranormal beliefs are more prone to isolated sleep paralysis (ISP) — a brief inability to move that manifests during transitions between wakefulness and sleep.

In some countries, this sleep disorder is even directly associated with a supernatural being. In Egypt, a widespread belief is that it is caused by jinnwhile in Italy, sleep paralysis would be the sign of a attack of Pandafeche, an evil and terrifying being. A study conducted among American students listed the non-human beings perceived during these episodes of paralysis: they were most often ghosts or “shadow people”. All of these beliefs are actually linked to increased levels of anxiety and distress that occur during paralysis.

Another sleep disorder, called “exploding head syndrome” (or EHS, for Exploding Head Syndrome), has also been associated with belief in the supernatural. This syndrome manifests itself during the first phase of sleep: the individual about to fall asleep (or who has just fallen asleep) suddenly feels the impression of a loud noise (painless), which is accompanied by hallucinations and general discomfort (sensation of breathing difficulties, palpitations, tingling). For 2.8% of those affected, this disorder results from non-biological and supernatural causes.

To further examine the link between paranormal beliefs and sleep variables, the researchers focused on six common beliefs, and their associations with sleep quality variables (sleep efficiency, duration, latency, insomnia symptoms), PSI and EHS.

Hallucinations perceived as proof of the existence of extraterrestrials

A total of 8,853 adults responded to a survey launched by the BBC Science Focus Magazine, in which they reported on their demographics, sleep disorders, and paranormal beliefs, including: 1) the soul lives on after death; 2) ghosts exist; 3) demons exist; 4) some people are able to communicate with the dead; 5) near-death experiences are evidence of life after death; and 6) extraterrestrials visited Earth/interacted with humans. The response options for these six items ranged from 1 (definitely not) to 5 (yes, absolutely).

The results showed that people reporting a high level of paranormal beliefs are also those who report poor quality sleep; they take much longer to fall asleep, sleep less and suffer from insomnia.

relationships beliefs sleep
Relations between paranormal beliefs and subjective variables of sleep quality. © B. Rauf et al.

In addition, various abnormal beliefs were associated with PSI and EHS. The belief that extraterrestrials have visited Earth or interacted with humans was more common among participants who reported episodes of PSI or EHS. PSI was also associated with the belief that near-death experiences are evidence of life after death. ” As ISP involves different types of hallucinations, including auditory and visual, and EHS typically involves a bang, our results suggest that belief in aliens may be associated with sleep disturbances that produce sounds or images. “, note the researchers.

Some of the associations identified here could be explained by anxiety about certain paranormal beliefs (eg the existence of ghosts and demons) interfering with sleep. However, this theory does not explain the links established with other paranormal beliefs (such as the belief in the soul and in life after death). The mechanisms underlying these associations are likely complex and therefore need to be explored further in future studies.

In the meantime, these first results could be used in psychotherapy. ” Understanding these links can represent a first step towards obtaining information that could potentially be provided in the context of psychoeducation aimed at supporting certain people struggling with sleep problems. “, conclude the authors of the study.

Source : B. Rauf et al., Journal of Sleep Research

Paranormal beliefs are associated with poor sleep, study finds