Sleep Paralysis and psychopathology

Celestine Okorome Mume, Innocent C Ikem


The occurrence of sleep paralysis in the absence of narcolepsy is not uncommon in the population. A good number of normal individuals sometimes report the experience of episodes of profound muscular paralysis on waking from sleep in the morning or during the night. These episodes are very disturbing, especially since the individual is generally unable to breathe deeply or voluntarily. Previous studies have suggested an association between isolated sleep paralysis and adverse psychosocial situations though not with any specific condition. A test of the hypothesis that its prevalence may be affected by stressful life situations is presented in this study using orthopaedic patients (suffering from physical injuries) and patients with multiple somatic complaints (suffering from psychological disorders) as examples of individuals undergoing stressful life experiences.

Objectives: The objectives of this study were to find out the prevalence of sleep paralysis in samples of orthopaedic patients and patients who presented with multiple somatic complaints and determine if these rates were significantly higher than the rate in healthy individuals. This study also aimed at determining if there was evidence of psychopathology among orthopaedic patients, and if so to find out if there was significant difference in the degree of psychopathology between the orthopaedic patients and patients with multiple somatic complaints.

Materials and Methods: Samples of healthy individuals, orthopaedic patients and patients with multiple somatic complaints were asked to fill out a survey that determined the three - month prevalence of isolated sleep paralysis. They were also scored on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS).

Results: Isolated sleep paralysis was reported by 28% of the healthy subjects, 44% of orthopaedic patients and 56% of the patients with multiple somatic complaints. The degree of psychopathology (as shown by scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale) in the orthopaedic patients was significantly higher than that in the healthy subjects and significantly lower than that reported by the patients with multiple somatic complaints.

Conclusion: This study has shown that though isolated sleep paralysis occurs in healthy individuals, it is nevertheless associated with psychopathology.


Sleep paralysis, psychopathology, sleep disorders.

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Submitted: 26 February 2009
Published: 01 December 2009

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)