Sleep paralysis episode frequency and number, types, and structure of associated hallucinations
Sleep paralysis (SP) episodes are often accompanied by vivid hallucinoid experiences that have been found to fall into three major categories thought to be organized according to intrinsic rapid eye movement (REM) processes. Prior research has, however, combined data for individuals with varying degrees of experience with SP episodes, rendering interpretations of the source of this structure ambiguous. The present study of 5799 current SP experients compares the nature and structure of the hallucinations of novice SP experients with those reporting varying numbers of episodes. Both qualitative and quantitative differences were found in reported hallucinations as a function of episode frequency, although the underlying three-factor structure of the hallucinoid experiences was highly similar for all groups. Novice experients’ reports were, however, characterized by clearer differentiation of factors, likely because of a tendency of experienced SP experients to conflate experiences across episodes. Age and age of onset of SP episodes were associated with differences in the variety and types of hallucinations but not their underlying structure. Earlier onset of SP episodes was also associated with more frequent episodes. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that the basic form and patterning of hallucinatory experiences is a result of intrinsic processes, independent of prior experience, likely associated with underlying REM neurophysiology.