To investigate the prevalence and illness beliefs of sleep paralysis (SP) among Chinese patients in a psychiatric out-patient clinic, consecutive Chinese/Chinese-American patients who attended psychiatric out-patient clinics in Boston and Shanghai were asked about their lifetime prevalence, personal experience and perceptions regarding the causes, precipitating factors, consequences, and help-seeking of SP. During the 4-month study period, 42 non-psychotic psychiatric out-patients from the Boston site and 150 patients from the Shanghai site were interviewed. The prevalence of SP was found to be 26.2% in Boston and 23.3% in Shanghai. Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or panic disorder reported a higher prevalence of SP than did patients without these disorders. Patients attributed SP to fatigue, stress, and other psychosocial factors. Although the experience has traditionally been labeled 'ghost oppression' among the Chinese, only two patients, one from each site, endorsed supernatural causes of their SP. Sleep paralysis is common among Chinese psychiatric out-patients. The endorsement of supernatural explanations for SP is rare among contemporary Chinese patients.