Sleep Paralysis: An Overview of the Sleep Disorder

Have you ever felt like you were awake but unable to move your body? This strange phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis, a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move or speak that occurs when a person is falling asleep or waking up. In this state, the person is fully conscious but unable to move their limbs, speak or even open their eyes. They may also experience the sensation of being held down or suffocated. While sleep paralysis can be a scary experience, it is not considered a serious medical condition.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is often associated with other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, a disorder in which a person experiences excessive sleepiness during the day. There are also some common triggers of sleep paralysis, such as sleep deprivation, an irregular sleep schedule, stress, and anxiety. In some cases, sleep paralysis can be caused by certain medications or substance abuse.

Who is at Risk of Sleep Paralysis?

While anyone can experience sleep paralysis, there are some factors that can increase the risk, including:

  • A family history of sleep disorders
  • Narcolepsy
  • Irregular sleep schedule
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Substance abuse

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis?

The main symptom of sleep paralysis is the inability to move, speak or open your eyes when you are waking up or falling asleep. Some people also experience hallucinations, which can be visual, auditory or tactile. These hallucinations can be quite vivid and are often associated with feelings of terror or dread.

How is Sleep Paralysis Diagnosed?

If you think you may have sleep paralysis, you should consult with your doctor. They will perform a physical examination, ask about your symptoms, and may refer you to a sleep specialist for further testing. One test commonly used to diagnose sleep disorders is a polysomnography, which records brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, and breathing during sleep.

How is Sleep Paralysis Treated?

While there is no cure for sleep paralysis, there are several treatments that can help reduce the frequency and severity of the episodes:

  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule
  • Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Reducing stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques or therapy
  • Medications such as antidepressants or benzodiazepines may also be prescribed in some cases

Preventing Sleep Paralysis

While sleep paralysis cannot be completely prevented, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing an episode:

  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule and sticking to it
  • Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding heavy meals before bedtime and creating a comfortable sleep environment
  • Reducing stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques or therapy

The Bottom Line

Sleep paralysis can be a scary and uncomfortable experience, but it is a common sleep disorder that can be managed with proper treatment and lifestyle changes. If you think you may be experiencing sleep paralysis, it’s important to speak with your doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions and develop a treatment plan that works for you.


FAQ 1: What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep Paralysis is a sleep disorder in which the person experiences an inability to move or speak during the transition between sleep and wakefulness. This condition happens when the brain and body are not in sync, causing the person to be aware of their surroundings while their body is still in a state of sleep. While this can be a scary and intense experience, it is not usually harmful, and medical treatment is rarely necessary.

FAQ 2: What causes Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep Paralysis is often caused by a lack of sleep, irregular sleeping patterns, and disrupted sleep cycles. Other factors that can lead to sleep paralysis include anxiety, stress, and medication side effects. In addition, certain sleep disorders like narcolepsy and sleep apnea have been linked to sleep paralysis.

FAQ 3: How can Sleep Paralysis be treated or prevented?

If you experience Sleep Paralysis, making changes to your sleep habits can often be an effective way to prevent it from happening. This includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and reducing stress levels. In some cases, treatment for underlying sleep disorders like narcolepsy or sleep apnea may also help alleviate symptoms of sleep paralysis. While medication is rarely necessary, some doctors may prescribe antidepressants or sleeping pills if the disorder is causing significant anxiety or impairment in daily life.


1. Cheyne, J. A., Rueffer, S. D., & Newby-Clark, I. R. (1999). Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations during sleep paralysis: neurological and cultural construction of the night-mare. Consciousness and Cognition, 8(3), 319-337. (Cheyne, Rueffer, & Newby-Clark, 1999)

2. Sharpless, B. A., & Barber, J. P. (2011). Lifetime prevalence rates of sleep paralysis: a systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 15(5), 311-315. (Sharpless & Barber, 2011)

3. Hufford, D. J. (1982). The terror that comes in the night: an experience-centered study of supernatural assault traditions. University of Pennsylvania Press. (Hufford, 1982)