- A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that poor sleep correlates with paranormal beliefs.
- People with insomnia and sleep paralysis are more likely to believe in ghosts, aliens, and life after death.
- The study’s authors told Insiders the findings could improve healthcare, but there’s more to learn.
Reported sightings of ghosts, demons, and aliens are more common at night. According to a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, those who see them may have one thing in common: trouble sleeping.
“People report supposedly paranormal experiences during the night,” Betul Rauf, a graduate student at Goldsmiths University’s sleep laboratory who led the study, told Insider. “For some, these experiences can be terrifying, which can lead to increased anxiety, which in turn can further disrupt existing sleep problems. We see that this can create a vicious circle.”
Rauf and several other researchers were inspired to study the relationship between belief in paranormal experiences and the quality of sleep “to offer an alternative explanation” for people’s perceptions of what they believe to be a ghost or demon at night. The research group conducted a survey of 8,835 participants who self-reported their demographics, sleep disorders, and paranormal beliefs.
They found that those suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep paralysis were more likely to endorse paranormal beliefs such as the soul’s survival after death, some people’s ability to communicate with the dead, and the existence of spirits and demons.
In particular, episodes of sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome — where an explosive, cracking noise in your head jolts you awake as you begin to fall asleep or in the middle of the night — have been linked to the belief that extraterrestrials have visited Earth. Sleep paralysis was also strongly linked to the belief that near-death experiences are evidence of life after death.
“It’s important to note that we are only reporting the correlations between variables, and results require replication before strong conclusions can be drawn,” Rauf told Insider, adding that a longitudinal study would help substantiate her findings. “Although we don’t provide information on the direction of effects between variables, one possibility is that certain aspects of sleep may explain why some things are jerky at night.” More research is needed before this is clear.”
Should the findings replicate, Rauf said, the findings could potentially provide important information to healthcare providers when confronted with patients reporting paranormal phenomena. For example, the increased correlation of paranormal beliefs may indicate sleep disorders, potentially making the information helpful in diagnosing such ailments.
“Reports of paranormal activity or abnormal beliefs could be misconstrued as circumstantial evidence of more serious disorders such as schizophrenia, schizotypal personality disorder, or depression with psychotic features,” the study states. “The results provided here may encourage clinicians to screen for relevant sleep disorders and parasomnias in addition to other forms of psychopathology. Accurate differential diagnosis could clearly have important implications for treatment.”
Two in five, or about 40%, of Americans believe ghosts are real — and 20% say they’ve seen one, USA Today reported. About 43% of the population believe in demons. Pew Research found that belief in aliens is more widespread, 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 thought to be caused by invisible trickster jinn called jinn, while in Turkey it’s the karabasan – mysterious spirit beings – who freeze sleepers in their beds. In Italy, the state is considered an attack by panda feche, described as a wicked witch or menacing giant cat. Indigenous peoples of South Africa believe that such insomnia is caused by black magic cast by dwarves called Tokoloshe.
“People try to explain things by paranormal means when they can’t find an explanation for things that are going on,” Don Collins, director at Fringe Paranormal, an Ohio-based paranormal investigative group, told the New York Times. “Negative things are happening around them, they tend to attribute it to paranormal activity.”