Penn State announces new sleep paralysis study
During my Darkness Radio interview last week, I mentioned the culture-wide surge of awareness and interest in sleep paralysis that has occurred during the past few decades, and especially in the past four and five years. From being an experience and phenomenon that was essentially forgotten, or rather suppressed from memory, in Western culture at large for several centuries until folklorist David Hufford recalled it for us via his groundbreaking 1982 book The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions, sleep paralysis has steadily grown in cultural stature during recent years, to the point where it now
- is talked about all over the Internet;
- serves as the subject of a growing number of documentary films and books, as in, most recently, Shelly Adler’s just-published Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection, which has received major media attention;
- and has become a kind of cause célèbre in entertainment culture, where it receives muted references in, e.g., the Paranormal Activity movies (and direct ones in their attendant rip-off/mockbuster, Paranormal Entity), and where it was even featured as a “mystery disease” on the Rachael Ray Show in July 2010.
So the news today from Penn State about a new round of professional research into SP is just another entry in this cosmic-cultural log book, and a very welcome one at that, not least because of the accompanying announcement that the research was supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health.
(Tangentially, when you click through, note that whoever published the Penn State press release chose to accompany it with, of course, the famous Fuseli painting, whose ascendancy in these matters is another and entirely worthy story in its own right, and one that I plan to relate in a future installment of my soon-to-be-resurrected Stained Glass Gothic column at SF Signal. Directly above, you can see one of Fuseli’s alternative takes on the same subject.)
Less than 8 percent of the general population experiences sleep paralysis, but it is more frequent in two groups — students and psychiatric patients — according to a new study by psychologists at Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania…Brian A. Sharpless, clinical assistant professor of psychology and assistant director of the psychological clinic at Penn State, [said] “I realized that there were no real sleep paralysis prevalence rates available that were based on large and diverse samples. So I combined data from my previous study with 34 other studies in order to determine how common it was in different groups”…People experience three basic types of hallucinations during sleep paralysis — the presence of an intruder, pressure on the chest sometimes accompanied by physical and/or sexual assault experiences and levitation or out-of-body experiences…”I want to better understand how sleep paralysis affects people, as opposed to simply knowing that they experience it,” said Sharpless. “I want to see how it impacts their lives.”
Full story at Penn State Live: “Psychologists chase down sleep demons“