Alien Abduction? Reductionists Call It Sleep Paralysis

Roberta Colasanti, LICSW
Clinical Director, PEER

The recent article by Nicholas D. Kristof[1] suggesting that science implicates sleep paralysis as the main reason for reports of alien abductions demonstrates how threatening data, like reports of alien abduction or contact, can only be tolerated by fitting them into a reductionistic worldview. The fact that the only symptoms of alien abductions which “fit” the theory of sleep paralysis were offered is evidence of this cultural bias.

The hundreds of individuals reporting alien abduction who are fully conscious and/or even engaged in physical activity were noticeably left out. Our studies alone include over 200 cases of individuals from six continents who have reported alien abductions while driving cars, walking, riding the subway, and while canoeing, to name but a few.

The supposition of sleep paralysis also does not take into account well documented cases by researchers such as John Carpenter, M.S.W., Budd Hopkins, and David Jacobs, Ph.D., who report multiply witnessed or shared experiences of alien abduction. Sleep paralysis by definition occurs only on an individual basis.

Although many of the more frightening symptoms of sleep paralysis may be similar to reports of alien abduction, it does not account for the complex reports of individuals who feel a deep and familiar relationship to the alien beings. It also does not account for the highly functioning individuals with whom we work who identify their experiences as the catalyst for making significant life changes, such as entering new careers, becoming active in the environmental movement, experiencing intense psychic abilities, and the reports of deep and sustained spiritual awakenings. It is our understanding these are not typical byproducts of sleep paralysis.

Reaching for reductionistic answers to challenging, complicated and potentially threatening human experiences limits our opportunity for a deeper and potentially more vast understanding of the world we live in.

[1] Kristof, Nicholas “Alien Abduction? Science Calls It Sleep Paralysis“, The New York Times, Section F, p.1, July 6, 1999

Roberta L. Colasanti, LICSW, co-founded the Behavioral Medicine Department at Harvard Community Health Plan, where she worked for 14 years. She co-created the “Ways to Wellness” program at HCHP and has developed and led symptom-specific groups for ambulatory care patients. As clinical director of PEER in the 1990s, Ms. Colasanti collaborated with Dr. John Mack by interviewing and working with individuals who reported anomalous experiences.