What Is Sleep Paralysis?

There are many different sleep disorders and one of these is the ominous sounding sleep paralysis.

sleep paralyis

An Introduction To Sleep Paralysis

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being awake yet at the same time being unable to move? If so, perhaps you have been overwhelmed with fear without being able to call for help.

This is a condition called sleep paralysis.

Some people only suffer a single outbreak. For others it can be a more regular occurrence, sometimes even happening several times in one night. It’s actually surprisingly common with over 3 million cases each year reported in the US alone.

One piece of good news to start off with is that sleep paralysis is not a serious health problem.

We will look in this article at what, precisely, this disorder is. We’ll also examine how you can diagnose and treat the problem as well as a quick glance at the two different varieties.


What Is Sleep Paralysis?

In a nutshell, sleep paralysis is when you feel conscious but at the same time you are not able to move your body. It takes place when you move from a state of wakefulness to one of sleep.

sleeping and sleep paralysis

While you undergo these shifts of state, it may be only seconds or maybe minutes before you regain the ability to move or speak properly.

Accompanying problems are a feeling of choking or abnormal pressure. Both of these, obviously, can cause quite a scare. The worst scenario is when this is partnered with hallucinations. A sense of dread and sometimes even a supernatural creature lurking combine to make sleep paralysis a terrifying ordeal.

It’s understandably very frightening, especially if you happen to see or hear things which are not really there. Some people who are beset by sleep paralysis feel that there is an intruder in the room. Other explanations point to an incubus (a kind of demon) or vestibular motor sensations (those hallucinations). We will examine here the science behind it which explains it in a rather less dramatic manner.

It can occur alongside other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.

When Does Sleep Paralysis Happen?

There are two main times when it kicks in, either while you are falling asleep or just as you are about to wake.

Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis

  • Predormital or hypnagogic sleep paralysis takes place as you fall asleep and your body gradually starts to relax. As your overall awareness lessens, you do not really notice this change happening. If you stay more aware or return to this state then try to speak or move you may notice that it’s an impossible task. This is hypnagogic sleep paralysis in effect.

Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis

  • The other strand is known as postdormital or hypnopompic sleep paralysis. The body needs both REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. Generally, these separate cycles last for around 90 minutes. NREM sleep is first and accounts for almost three-quarters of your sleep in total. It’s during this phase that the body fully relaxes and restores itself. When NREM comes to a close, you switch to a REM cycle. The body is still relaxed but your eyes begin swiftly moving and dreams start. Your muscles take a break. If you attempt to speak or move at this point, you might not be able to.

So these are the two particular times of the night when you are at risk from sleep paralysis. It most often presents itself during teenage years and is likely to recur in the 20s and 30s. Although it may possibly continue as you age and it’s undeniably a scary state of affairs, there’s no serious health risk associated with this parasomnia.

Who Suffers From Sleep Paralysis?

It’s really rather a commonplace disorder with as many as 4 in 10 people of both sexes suffering from it at some stage.

It can be hereditary and there are also a number of factors which can increase your risk. Those who abuse substances or certain OTC medication can bring about this disturbing problem. If you suffer from existing mental conditions such as bipolar disorder then you are also more likely to find this happening to you. Parallel sleep issues such as narcolepsy or cramps can also provoke sleep paralysis. In addition to these elements, a lack of sleep in general or shifting sleeping patterns can also make things worse. As a handy tip, try to avoid sleeping on your back as this can increase the chance of an outbreak.

How Can Sleep Paralysis Be Diagnosed?

If the situation outlined above takes you by surprise and you are unable to speak or move before or after sleeping, there’s a high chance it’s a case of isolated recurrent sleep paralysis.

There’s no need to panic. As stated, it’s very common and nothing to worry about. Most of the time there is no need to pursue any kind of treatment.

If your symptoms cause you to feel at all anxious, tired during the day or unable to sleep properly then it’s a smart move to consult a doctor.

Try keeping a sleep diary for a period of a week or so. Describe any symptoms with as much detail as you can muster. The doctor may quiz you about any sleep disorders which run in the family and in some cases even refer you to a sleep specialist. Sleep studies, either overnight or during the day, can be conducted if necessary.

So, diagnosis is pretty straightforward and do not hesitate to seek medical advice if you want reassurance.


As stated, most people who encounter sleep paralysis have no need of any treatment at all.

When treatment is necessary, the focus is normally on dealing with any partnering leg cramps or disorders such as narcolepsy. Sorting out these problems often eliminates the sleep paralysis.

Some antidepressants can positively regulate your sleep cycles. It’s crucial to deal with any mental health flashpoints which can provoke sleep paralysis. Do not ignore them. Seek the help of your doctor and explore what medications are on offer.

That aside, the idea of most treatment is to take steps to improve overall sleep health which in turn should drastically reduce the chance of sleep paralysis happening again.


There is no denying that someone experiencing sleep paralysis is likely to feel concerned. If you understand the simple reasons why this happens and take action to improve your overall sleep health, it should not be an ongoing issue.

Get yourself checked out by your doctor if necessary and don’t worry. There is nothing serious about sleep paralysis. Think of it as no more than a bad dream!

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