- A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that poor sleep correlates with paranormal beliefs.
- People with insomnia and sleep paralysis often believe in ghosts, aliens and the afterlife.
- Study authors told Insider that the results could improve health care, but there’s more to learn.
Reported sightings of ghosts, demons 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 disturbances.
“People report ostensibly paranormal experiences at night,” Betul Rauf, a doctoral student at the Goldsmiths University Sleep Laboratory, who led the study, told Insider. “For some, these experiences can be terrifying, which can lead to increased anxiety, and this in turn can further disrupt existing sleep problems. We see 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 think is 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 disorders 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 ghosts. Devils.
In particular, episodes of sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome — where an explosive sound in your head wakes you up just as you’re just starting to fall asleep or in the middle of the night — have been linked to the belief that aliens have visited Earth. Sleep paralysis was also highly associated with the belief that near-death experiences are evidence of an afterlife.
“It’s important to note that we are only reporting correlations between variables and the results require replication before strong conclusions can be drawn,” Rauf told Insider, adding that a longitudinal study would help prove his findings. “Although we don’t provide any information about the direction of effects between variables, one possibility is that certain aspects of sleep could help explain why some things happen during the night. More research is needed before this becomes clear.”
If the findings are replicated, Rauf said, the insights could provide healthcare professionals with important information when confronted with patients who report experiencing paranormal phenomena. The increased correlation of paranormal beliefs could be indicative of sleep disturbance, for example, making the information potentially useful for diagnosing such illnesses.
“Reports of paranormal activity or anomalous beliefs can be confused as prima facie evidence of more serious disorders such as schizophrenia, schizotypal personality disorder or depression with psychotic features,” the study says. “The results provided here may encourage clinicians to evaluate relevant sleep disorders and parasomnias, as well as other forms of psychopathology. Clearly, accurate differential diagnosis can have important treatment implications.”
Two in five, or roughly 40%, of Americans believe ghosts are real — and 20% say they’ve 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 rogue, invisible jinn called jinn, while in Turkey it is the karabasan – mysterious spirit creatures – who freeze those who sleep in their beds. In Italy, the state is considered a Pandafeche attack, depicted as an evil witch or menacing giant cat. The indigenous peoples of South Africa believe that such sleep disturbances are caused by black magic cast by dwarfs called tokoloshe.
“People try to explain things that happen by paranormal means when they can’t find an explanation for things that are happening,” Don Collins, director of the 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.”