Phenomenology and interpretations of sleep paralysis : an Aotearoa New Zealand sample : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Sleep Paralysis (SP) is a sleep-related experience in which the individual cannot move or speak, yet remains cognisant of their immediate environment. Although described as “hallucinations” within biomedical discourse, multi-sensorial perceptions that often accompany SP have given rise to numerous cultural, spiritual and supernatural explanatory models. Whilst cross cultural research has investigated the experience within several populations, no studies have investigated the experience within Aotearoa New Zealand. In the present qualitative, phenomenological study, 12 individuals were recruited using stratified purposive sampling and interviewed regarding their experience(s) of SP. Through inductive thematic analysis (TA), themes were categorised under four domain summaries: Phenomenological Characteristics, Interpretations, Support and Coping Strategies. Two major interpretive models were identified; biomedical and spiritual, which influenced how SP was understood, explained and responded to by participants. Participants conveyed a reluctance to disclose SP for fears of being labelled mentally ill, whilst others felt judgement toward their spiritual worldviews which deviated from social norms. Future directions may include deepening the knowledge surrounding how the experience is conceptualised through a lens of te ao Māori, in addition to further exploration into the beneficial aftereffects of positive SP experiences. A quantitative follow-up study may also be of value to generalise findings to the greater population.