- A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that poor sleep is correlated with paranormal beliefs.
- People with insomnia and sleep paralysis often believe in ghosts, aliens, and the afterlife.
- The study authors told Insider that the results could improve medical care, but there is more to learn.
Reported sightings of ghosts, ghouls, and aliens are more common at night. Those who see them may have one thing in common, according to a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research: sleep disorders.
“People report seemingly paranormal experiences at night,” Betul Rauf, a doctoral student at Goldsmiths University Sleep Laboratory who led the study, told Insider. “For some, these experiences can be frightening, which can lead to increased anxiety and this, in turn, can further disrupt existing sleep problems. We see that this can cause a vicious cycle.”
Rauf and several other researchers were inspired to investigate the relationship between belief in paranormal experiences and sleep quality “to offer an alternative explanation” when people perceive what they believe to be a ghost or demon at night. The research group conducted a survey of 8,835 participants who reported their demographics, sleep disturbances, and paranormal beliefs.
They found that those who experience sleep disruptions such as insomnia and sleep paralysis are more likely to endorse paranormal beliefs such as the soul living after death, the ability of some people to communicate with the dead, and the existence of ghosts and demons.
In particular, episodes of sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome, in which you are awakened by an exploding sound in your head when you are beginning to drift off or in the middle of the night, have been associated with the belief that aliens They have visited Earth. Sleep paralysis was also highly associated with the belief that near-death experiences are evidence of life after death.
“It’s important to note that we only report correlations between variables, and the results require replication before any robust conclusions can be drawn,” Rauf told Insider, adding that a longitudinal study would help test his findings. “Although we do not provide any information on the direction of the effects between the variables, one possibility is that certain aspects of sleep may help explain why some things are agitated at night. More research is required before this is clear.”
If the findings are replicated, Rauf said, the insights could provide healthcare providers with important information when confronted with patients who report experiencing paranormal phenomena. The higher correlation of paranormal beliefs may be indicative of sleep disruption, for example, making the information potentially useful in diagnosing such ailments.
“Reports of paranormal activity or anomalous beliefs could be confused with prima facie evidence of more serious disorders, such as schizophrenia, schizotypal personality disorder, or depression with psychotic features,” the study reads. “The results provided here may encourage clinicians to evaluate relevant sleep disorders and parasomnias, in addition to other forms of psychopathology. Clearly, an accurate differential diagnosis could have important treatment implications.”
Two in five, or about 40%, of Americans believe ghosts are real, with 20% saying they have seen one, USA Today reported. Approximately 43% of the population believe in demons. Pew Research found that belief in aliens is more prevalent, with nearly two-thirds of Americans saying there is intelligent life on other planets.
Different cultures have long contextualized sleep disorders with explanations ranging from the scientific to the supernatural. In Egypt, sleep paralysis is believed to be caused by unseen trickster genies called jinn, while in Turkey, it is the karabasan, mysterious spirit creatures, that freeze sleepers in their beds. In Italy, the state is considered an attack by the Pandafeche, described as either a wicked witch or a menacing giant cat. The indigenous people of South Africa believe that such sleep disturbances are caused by black magic cast by dwarves called tokoloshe.
“People try to explain things that happen through paranormal means when they can’t find an explanation for things that are happening,” Don Collins, director of Fringe Paranormal, a group of paranormal investigators in Ohio, told The New York Times. . “Negative things are happening around them, they may tend to attribute it to paranormal activity.”