Sleep paralysis in adolescents: The ‘a dead body climbed on top of me’ phenomenon in Mexico

Authors

  • Alejandro Jiménez-Genchi md ,

    Corresponding author
      *Alejandro Jiménez-Genchi, MD, Servicios Clínicos, Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz, Calz, México-Xochimilco 101, Col. San Lorenzo Huipulco C. P. 14370, Tlalpan, México DF, México. Email: jimalex@imp.edu.mx
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  • Víctor M. Ávila-Rodríguez md ,

    1. Clinical Services, National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz, México DF, México
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  • Frida Sánchez-Rojas md ,

    1. Clinical Services, National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz, México DF, México
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  • Blanca E. Vargas Terrez md ,

    1. Clinical Services, National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz, México DF, México
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  • Alejandro Nenclares-Portocarrero md

    1. Clinical Services, National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz, México DF, México
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*Alejandro Jiménez-Genchi, MD, Servicios Clínicos, Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz, Calz, México-Xochimilco 101, Col. San Lorenzo Huipulco C. P. 14370, Tlalpan, México DF, México. Email: jimalex@imp.edu.mx

Abstract

Aims:  The aim of the present study was to evaluate the prevalence and characteristics of sleep paralysis in adolescents using a folk expression.

Methods:  Three hundred and twenty-two adolescents (mean age, 15.9 ± 0.88 years; 66.8% female) from three high schools in Mexico City completed both a self-reported questionnaire, including a colloquial definition of sleep paralysis and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

Results:  A high proportion of the adolescents (92.5%) had heard about the ‘a dead body climbed on top of me’ expression and 27.6% of them had experienced the phenomenon. Sleep paralysis was present in 25.5% while the prevalence rate for hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations was 22%; 61% had experienced ≥2 episodes in their lifetime. The mean age of onset was 12.5 ± 3 years. Sleepiness scores for the subjects who had experienced at least one event were not significantly different from subjects who had not experienced any. In 72% of cases, the episodes were composed of both sleep paralysis and hallucinations while 20.2% consisted of only sleep paralysis and 7.8% of only hallucinations. The number and characteristics of events were not significantly different between adolescents with only one episode and those with two or more episodes.

Conclusions:  The characteristics of the ‘a dead body climbed on top of me’ phenomenon suggest that is identical to sleep paralysis and a frequent experience among Mexican adolescents. During adolescence, sleep paralysis seems to be a recurrent phenomenon frequently accompanied by hallucinatory experiences.

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