Sleep Paralysis Causes Next Day Distress

What about the Next Day? 

What if I told you that this fun little experience of Sleep Paralysis actually did affect you. What if your emotions, personality, and general demeanor were completely altered. While reading Science Daily last week, I stumbled upon a very interesting article on Sleep Paralysis. Two researchers, James Cheyne and Gordon Pennycook, released findings from a study in the Clinical Psychological Science Journal, concluding that Sleep Paralysis affects an individuals’ interactions with the world the next day in a negative way.

The Study

By using an online survey and follow-up emails, the two researchers collected information from 293 people  to explore post-episode distress by measuring a range of items. They measured different characteristics relating to the episode itself, such as amount of fear experienced, vividness of experiences, frequency of episodes. They also looked at factors relating to each individual, such as psychological distress sensitivity, supernatural beliefs about the Sleep Paralysis experience, and cognitive style (either fast/intuitive thinking or  slow/reflective/analytic thinking (Evans, 2008)).

The Findings

Concurring with their proposed hypothesis, the researchers found that the characteristics of the episode directly related to the amount of distress the next day. The more fear experienced during the episode, the more distress an individual felt the next day. The distress was further exacerbated in those who felt fear of threats or assault, such as chest pressure, intruders, and near-death experiences. The distress was also worse for people who felt sensations of floating, falling, or out-of-body experiences (Cheyne, 2013)

The researchers also found that an individuals level of psychological distress (anxiety, depression) had had almost no effect on the amount of fear experienced in the episode, although it still resulted in post-episode distress.

Individuals who held supernatural beliefs about the Sleep Paralysis experience reported increased intensity of both fear and threat/assault experiences as well as increased postepisode distress compared to others. Additionally, those with analytic cognitive styles were found to have significantly less supernatural beliefs about the experience. This makes sense, for people with analytical thinking styles would reach out to others for more information and explanations on the experience, dissuading them from supernatural interpretations (Cheyne, 2013).

Surprising to the researchers and myself, those who employ more analytic cognitive styles of thinking experienced noticeably less distress after the Sleep Paralysis episode. Although the above findings directly show this, these results now show the ability of executive control processes in our brains to inhibit, activate, or manage more automatic processes, such as emotional reactivity after the episode. Therefore, analytic people are more likely to override their postepisode feelings of distress.This is further  supported by the findings that individuals the cognitive style had no affect on the  level of fear experienced during a particular episode (Cheyne, 2013).

What Are The Implications?

There are many important implications of this study. According to a post in the Toronto Telegraph, the researchers believe that “the distressing sensory experiences that come with episodes of Sleep Paralysis could exacerbate people’s fear, creating a feedback loop that enhances memories of experiences later”. This is very well supported from the results presented above, for analytic people must inhibit part of the loop preventing the enhancement of the memory later on.

Although a little far-fetched for the current amount of knowledge on Sleep Paralysis, the researchers also emphasize that studying these carryover effects further could “make a significant contribution to the billions of dollars, worldwide, in costs associated with accidents, illnesses, and lost productivity associated with sleep disturbances.”

I believe them- they’ve definitely found interesting correlations, and I applaud them for what they have found- but A LOT more research from other fields-like Neuro- will definitely be needed to truly achieve this goal.


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