One of the new features in JAR Magazine is our 'Ask the panel' section. In it, we put one question to a handful of people with experience in the field, and ask for their feedback.
On 6 November 2015, the British Daily Mail news paper ran an article that suggested that alien abductions were 'probably' just the result of sleep paralysis. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3305792/Think-ve-abducted-aliens-probably-just-sleep-paralysis-Psychologist-attempts-logically-explain-encounters-fourth-kind.html). The author refers to an article that appeared shortly before in The Psychologist, which was written by Christopher C French, of Goldsmiths, the University of London. (https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-28/october-2015/close-encounters-psychological-kind).
The theory that alien abductions are just sleep paralysis is an argument debunkers often come up with. It is, of course, an invalid argument, and fails to address, e.g., all the cases with multiple abductees, with witnesses, or where abductions do not happen in the bedroom. We thought it would be interesting to put the topic to our panel. For this occasion, our panel consisted of John Carpenter, Gwen Farrell, Nadine Lalich, Thomas Minderle, and Andrew Hennessey.
Can Sleep Paralysis Explain Abductions?
It must first be understood that sleep paralysis is a real physiological condition that can occur in anybody. During dreaming or REM sleep the central nervous system paralyzes the body except for the eyes. In the reticular formation in the brain stem an inhibition is produced which affects all muscle tone except for the eyes. This inhibition can still be in effect when our eyes open. In other words, the mind awakens before the body does. The mind gets confused by the unexpected sensation of paralysis. It is true that many abductions begin in the bedroom with the participant reporting a sense of paralysis or immobilization.
Another feature of sleep paralysis is the confusing perception of an unexpected “presence” in the room. I experienced this myself years ago when there had been many burglaries in our quiet neighborhood, and everybody was on edge. My wife and I always slept with the bedroom door closed and the dog on the bed. During that period of time there was an early moment of the morning when I heard my dog growling and was startled toward awakening. I noted the bedroom door open and a feeling that a shadowy figure was standing at the side of my bed. My heart leaped, my body could not move, my voice could not yell – and then I was suddenly fully awake and in a panic. But there was nobody there. The dog was growling in his sleep and my wife had forgotten to close the bedroom door. Everything was fine. But in those few confusing waking moments, I experienced that paralysis and those confusing misperceptions.
Research studies have shown that certain experiments with sleep paralysis have demonstrated the subjects’ reporting of strange lights, unexpected beings, feelings of immobilization, and other confusing details. Therefore, critics get excited thinking that they have found a plausible explanation for the phenomenon of “alien abduction.” David Hufford, author of The Terror That Comes in the Night, has researched night terrors and sleep paralysis for over 30 years. He admits that there are far more strange and anomalous aspects to “alien abductions” than what sleep paralysis can account for. In fact, he even goes as far as to say that aliens might be utilizing that physiological occurrence in humans to their advantage. In other words, they could trigger that condition to persist, thereby keeping us immobilized for as long as they like.
In any case, believing that sleep paralysis can “explain everything” in reports of UFO abductions is a very naïve opinion with only a superficial understanding of the alien abduction research. Let me give you a number of reasons why this would be a ridiculous and often an impossible explanation for abduction encounters.
First of all, many abduction encounters begin NOT in the bedroom or in any kind of a sleep state. A person could be driving his car when he pulls over to get a better look at a strange object hovering over the trees nearby. In no way is he about to fall asleep because he is beside himself with excitement. Another person is swimming in the ocean when she sees a strange light overhead. A man walking his dog through the park is getting brisk exercise when his encounter begins. In fact, it has been shown that abduction experiences can begin anywhere at any time of day or night. One man was abducted right out of a crowded social event when everybody else in the room appeared “frozen” or paralyzed while he and the aliens were the only ones that could move or react. In this case, it seems obvious that the aliens are in charge of whom becomes paralyzed – and it is not always the abductee! This “freezing of time” may be a whole different mechanism of control at the alien’s command, but it certainly shows that the abductee is not the one being paralyzed in these scenarios.
Secondly, quite a few abduction cases involve multiple participants. Not only are they usually in a waking state, involved in some activity together, but there has never been a known case of simultaneous sleep paralysis among two or more people! The four men canoeing and camping along a lake in Maine (The Allagash Abductions by Raymond Fowler) were panicking and paddling as fast as possible back to shore when all four lost consciousness simultaneously. They certainly were not sleepy at that moment, yet they had hours of “missing time” and “re-awakened” at the same given moment, standing around a campfire hours later. There are no known cases of four men entering into amnesia at the same moment – and leaving that amnestic state hours later at the same second. Something else seems to be clearly in control of that process. Of further significance is the fact that careful interviews and subsequent hypnosis sessions performed separately resulted in all four men seeing each other aboard an alien craft and involved in examinations with precise and correlating details reported. There is no way that any form of sleep paralysis across four different male subjects could account for the alike reporting of precisely detailed scenarios of such bizarre and correlating information.
Likewise, another case of mine from 1989 involved two women driving home from Colorado late at night and both seeing strange lights come near their car. One moment they are excited and panicky, the next moment (two hours later) they are tired, grumpy, and silent. Under no circumstances did both of them fall asleep at that moment! Despite neither woman knowing anything about UFO abductions, independent investigations with separate hypnosis sessions revealed a very detailed and classic abduction scenario with 43 specific matches of bizarre details between their recollections. Other details matched unpublished data from other cases worldwide – none of it even possible from any sleep paralysis experience. In fact, no sleep paralysis study has ever produced the depth, diversity, and richness of details that are collected and studied in UFO Abduction research.
Further evidence that sleep paralysis cannot account for abduction reports is when the actual abduction is observed by somebody else. It cannot be an imagined product of the confusing sleep state if the partner is watching the abductee be removed from the bedroom and floated out the window in a blue beam of light. It would be stranger to claim that the partner somehow linked into the mind of the abductee to perceive his sleep paralysis imagery! What is interesting is that the partner was wide awake the whole time, yet strangely unable to move while the abductee was being escorted away. The absence is also clearly documented by the partner. This is reminiscent of when Travis Walton was observed struck by a blue beam of light in Arizona in 1975 and then clearly missing for five days, causing the witnesses to become suspects in his “murder” until he reappeared when the UFO released him.
The famous story of the Brooklyn Bridge case by Budd Hopkins (the book, Witnessed) involved as many as seven independent witnesses to the abduction of Linda Cortile from her twelfth floor apartment in Manhattan. Seen in a blue beam of light accompanied by three gray little beings with big black eyes, she floated up toward a hovering craft. All witnesses reported the same details despite being in different locations with different viewing perspectives; this was not her confused imagination from a sleep paralysis state!
Sleep paralysis cannot account for the physical cuts, bruises, surgical scars, incisions, “scoop marks,” retrieved implants, needle marks, and other effects upon the “sleeping” body. Nor can it account for awakening without your clothes outside the locked doors of your home. Even imagination is much more creative and diverse than the same reported, little, skinny, gray beings with big black eyes. Is that the only image of “aliens” that our minds can manufacture in terms of sleep imagery? True sleep imagery would be vastly diverse, creative, and more interesting!
Some notions of “feeling abducted by something” may stem from those brief and confusing moments created by sleep paralysis. But sleep paralysis cannot even begin to logically explain all the different types of reports collected worldwide with amazingly similar details. Most people are in a waking state; many are in groups; others are witnessed as being taken by some type of unknown entities. Critics can offer sleep paralysis as a superficial explanation, hoping that a naïve public will not dig any deeper into the actual research information than they ever did.
John Carpenter, MSW, LCSW
MUFON Director of Abduction Research 1991-2000
Sleep paralysis involves waking from sleep and being unable to move because the body is still asleep. If symptoms only involve temporary paralysis and nothing more, then we can say with confidence it was likely a sleep paralysis episode. However, if the person also recounts hearing voices, feeling a presence in the room, or seeing entities, then two possibilities exist: either these are hallucinations, or they are perceptions of objective phenomena. They might be hallucinations if the mind was only partially awake and hence some dream processes remained active and induced hypnopompic hallucinations that overlaid upon physical perception. On the other hand, alien visitations and abductions reportedly also involve paralysis and the presence of nonhuman beings. Aliens have telepathic and telekinetic abilities and are able to modify an abductee’s nervous and subtle energy systems to induce paralysis for control and safety purposes. Superficially, these two phenomena overlap and so skeptics make the convenient but fallacious jump toward discounting alien abductions as mere sleep paralysis.
The difference between sleep paralysis and alien encounters comes down to how many elements are present in the experience for which sleep paralysis is not a fitting explanation and vice versa. If one wakes to see a parade of dancing bananas floating before one’s face, then since this has no correlate within the abduction or occult fields and is just plain ludicrous, that points toward it being a hypnopompic hallucination. But if one instead sees the ubiquitous gray aliens, humanoids in jump suits, reptilians, or shadow figures fitting the behavior and characteristics of demons, and more so if there happen to be multiple eyewitnesses, if the abduction takes place while one is driving, if there are anomalous injuries or bodily marks afterward, if pets react traumatically, etc. then sleep paralysis becomes increasingly less viable as an explanation. That skeptics want to dismiss it all with two dimensional excuses shows they are naive at best and biased sophists at worst.
Continued in part 2: Sleep paralysis and alien abductions (part 2) with contributions from Gwen Farrell, Nadine Lalich and Andrew Hennessey.