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Rates and Characteristics of Sleep Paralysis in the General Population of Denmark and Egypt

Abstract

In the current research we report data from two studies that examined rates and characteristics of sleep paralysis (SP) in the general population of Denmark and Egypt. In Study I, individuals from Denmark and Egypt did not differ in age whereas there were more males in the Egyptian sample (47 vs. 64 %); in Study II, individuals from Denmark and Egypt were comparable in terms of age and gender distribution. In Study I we found that significantly fewer individuals had experienced SP in Denmark [25 % (56/223)] than in Egypt [44 % (207/470)] p < .001. In Study II we found that individuals who had experienced at least one lifetime episode of SP from Denmark (n = 58) as compared to those from Egypt (n = 143) reported significantly fewer SP episodes in a lifetime relative to SP experiencers from Egypt (M = 6.0 vs. M = 19.4, p < .001). SP in the Egyptian sample was characterized by high rates of SP (as compared to in Denmark), frequent occurrences (three times that in the Denmark sample), prolonged immobility during SP, and great fear of dying from the experience. In addition, in Egypt, believing SP to be precipitated by the supernatural was associated with fear of the experience and longer SP immobility. Findings are discussed in the context of cultural elaboration and salience theories of SP.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The suggestion that religion may be a source of distress as opposed to comfort only has been made by Guthrie (1993).

  2. 2.

    While we are not able to rule out that SP occurred as a symptom of narcolepsy given that this sleep disorder is very uncommon, the vast majority of SP cases reported in this study are bound to represent isolated sleep paralysis (ISP). For example, Ohayon et al. (2002) found in a large study of 18,980 randomly selected participants representative of the general population of five European countries (UK, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain) that .047% met a diagnosis of narcolepsy according to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD).

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Correspondence to Baland Jalal.

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Jalal, B., Hinton, D.E. Rates and Characteristics of Sleep Paralysis in the General Population of Denmark and Egypt. Cult Med Psychiatry 37, 534–548 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-013-9327-x

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Keywords

  • Sleep paralysis
  • Rates
  • Culture
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Trauma