Sleep paralysis is characterized by the sensation of being unable to move while awakening from sleep. Sleep paralysis is described as a transitional state that occurs when a person experiences a temporary inability to react, move, or speak while asleep, falling asleep, or on awakening from sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis

Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis

Unfortunately, sleep paralysis can be accompanied by frightening hallucinations during sleep whereby, due to the paralysis and physical experiences (which could be a forceful current running through the upper body), the person is left physically unable to react. These hallucinations can be very scary, and often involve a supernatural creature or other person taunting or terrifying the individual, together with difficulty breathing and/or a feeling of pressure on one’s chest. Another quite common type of hallucination involves either supernatural or human intruders lurking outside the person’s window or entering their bedroom, leaving the sleeper with feelings of fear and dread.1

During sleep paralysis, the individual is completely aware of the surroundings. The person often has the desire to move but is unable to. It can be frightening to the person.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

One explanation of sleep paralysis is that it’s caused by disrupted REM sleep: REM sleep typically induces total muscle atonia which prevents sleepers from acting out their dreams. Sleep deprivation and genetics are the major causes of sleep paralysis, and this condition has also been linked to disorderWhat Causes Sleep Paralysiss such as migraines, narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and anxiety disorders. It is associated with excessive daytime sleepiness and being sleep deprived. When a person sleeps in a fixed supine position, it increases the likelihood of them experiencing sleep paralysis. In addition, it is related to REM atonia, which is the paralysis that occurs as a natural part of REM sleep. Sleep paralysis is also one of the symptoms of narcolepsy.2

When Does Sleep Paralysis Occur?

These events often occur when a person is either falling asleep or awakening from sleep. If it occurs when going to sleep, the person will remain alert while the body prepares for REM sleep. This condition is known as predormital or hypnagogic sleep paralysis. If it occurs when the person is waking up, the person becomes alert prior to the REM cycle being completed. This condition is known as post-dormital or hypnopompic paralysis. The events can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, with rare cases lasting for hours, where the person could well experience panic symptoms.3

Sleep Paralysis Is Not Complete Paralysis

Due to the correlation of the paralysis with REM sleep, this type of atonia is not complete. The use of EOG traces clearly show that eye movement is still possible during these episodes; however, the person who is experiencing the events is not able to speak.

Types of Visions Associated with Sleep Hallucinations

The three main types of visions that have been linked to pathologic neurophysiology are –

  • Vestibular motor sensations,
  • The incubus, and
  • Believing there’s an intruder in the room.

Many people describe their experience as a sense of terror; where they experience the events followed by the sense of a frightening presence (or intruder) in their room. The neurological explanation for this phenomenon is that sleep paralysis occurs due to a hypervigilant state created in the midbrain. Specifically, the brain activates the emergency response when the person wakes up paralysed and feeling vulnerable to attack. This feeling of helplessness only serves to intensify the brain’s threat response, certainly more so than the level associated with normal dreams. This could well explain why visions experienced by a person during sleep paralysis are so clear and graphic.

Sleep Paralysis: The Story of Being Awake but Unable to Move

It is a very frightening story that many of you have experienced: You awaken in the morning, but are unable to move your body. This is the story and description of ‘Sleep Paralysis’.

Sleep paralysis is a sleep/wake phenomenon that most people experience in their lifetime. Usually it occurs in the morning, upon awakening. However, it can happen during other transitions between wake and sleep. In most cases, it is a normal finding. For some, though, it is a symptom of the sleep disorder, narcolepsy.

Often the sensation can be accompanied by intense fright and fear because the individual feels completely paralyzed during sleep. The experience is usually short-lived lasting only a few seconds.

Theories of Sleep Paralysis

Many scientists believe that sleep paralysis occurs because of ‘cross-over’ between different sleep stages. Specifically, there is a transition that occurs between REM sleep and wake.

It has been theorized that we evolved to be paralyzed during dream sleep in order to protect ourselves and the ones near us from bodily harm. This makes sense as we would not want to thrash and kick while sleeping.

19 thoughts on “Sleep Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

  1. Shayna Reply

    My sleep paralysis started when I was 12, I’m 62 now. I used to get it once every year then it increased a bit, but now I haven’t had them for years.

    It absolutely terrified me when I was a kid and I didn’t learn about sleep paralysis until I was in my 20’s. I thought something supernaturally evil was going on! I tried to talk to my mum about it, but she told me I was imagining it and not to be so stupid. Not comforting.

    I had the paralysis, of course, with unbelievably loud auditory hallucinations – it was like I was in the engine of a jumbo jet taking off.

    It was such a relief to find out about sleep paralysis and that I wasn’t going crazy.

    Some people have written about how it’s possible to flip from sleep paralysis to lucid dreaming. I would love to try that, but where is my sleep paralysis when I want it now!?

    • Desiree Reply

      I was also freaked for a while, folks tried comforting me (sorry about yours) then I learned about S.P. … Its rather comforting now. Maybe I’m starved for human touch that the pressure feels like a hug

  2. Michael De Soto Reply

    I am 48 and experienced my first…I believe it is. I don’t know if it was real or not, all i know is that i am terrified of What happened. I didn’t know what to do because this might have involved my falimy and if it was just a dream( which it was VERY REAL to me and i think it happened for the entire day). I have been stressing all day and night the previous day with a liver condition that has gotten worse. Saturday i awake and just sensed something. I sat on the side of my bed and started looking around my bed room then I started seeing things move in my room. First it was money I left on the dresser and then i noticed someone at my window…i live upstairs so I blew it off. Then i started hearing people and started to see movement at my window again..this time i saw a shadow of a hand with it. Once again I blew it off and looked up at a Jesus portrait I have hanging..it started moving. This is where I don’t know what was real a dream or what you all have described…..still don’t know and still terrified. When the portrait started moving i freaked out and minutes passed and that’s when i started to think is this happening in real life or am i asleep still. Then I started thinking that something was wrong in my head because what i just saw is NOT possible. I end up at that time that it was my brother and nephew playing a joke on me so I was upset and went out to confront them, but didn’t see them…was still convinced that it was a joke. Then it all turned on me. I went to my bedroom and layed down and started seeing the recliner moving. So I was kind of over it and just played along. So i was laying in my bedroom and started taking to my nephew( that at the time was behind the recliner because it was moving again and the figure was back at the window. So i assumed it was my brother there waiting to see if I would get mad at him. I started talking with my nephew and explained I was not mad, but he would not say a thing. This went on for hours and it started getting dark outside. I was getting frustrated because I had alot on my mind. This time I noticed there were now two dark figures outside the window and heard my family outside talking. After about 30 minutes I thought they called the cops on me because I got very upset at what happened and my nephew was scared to leave from behind the recliner. That’s when things got even worse. The next thing I knew I was on my bed begging for my nephew to leave and please explain why your scared. I heard some people coming up the stairs and figured ir it was the rest. I put my hands up and explained to the figures at my window that i did nothing wrong and was giving up and they should get the whole story….that is when I started to feel terrified that this wasn’t the police. Some how this went on for hours longer( i think) then i noticed them in my room. I continued to talk with them with no answer or comment from them. Now i am having a panic attack. Police would normally say stay still or something. These figures I could NOT tell who they were….i still haven’t seen my brother or nephew yet. So i was still in my bed completely terrified and could not move and these 4 figures were not talking to me. I believe I had a panic attack and passed out. The next thing that’s happening is they walked to me, i still could not see any features. They started to touch me as to calm me down…so i figured they knew I did nothing wrong. Did NOT get arrested and the lights were still off. This is when i could not move and I started to feel like I was being touched on my leg and feet and my thighs. This is not police procedure. I was in full blown panic and terrified. All night i was held down without harm. They were trying to put me to sleep by stroking my feet and and legs..until I felt something on my privates while I hear someone saying to go to sleep. Remember there was no talking from the beginning. Next thing I know I am jumping out of bed still felling terrifed and didn’t know what just happened. I was thinking it was a nightmare. When i fell back to sleep eventually i just had this feeling this was not over..i felt them in my room. The next morning I didn’t know if it happened…it was just to many weird and terrifying things that happened in a day. I could not ask my family if it happened because if it was a nightmare it would be embarrassing and if it was real….I don’t know what to say about that. I have been terrifed and nervous on what just happened. Was i going insane..didn’t know, until I finally had to let it out because it was driving me crazy All day. I talked with a friend about what happened and she told me to read up on this condition I never heard about. I started reading and everything that you ALL experienced separately i experienced in one night. That one about the music playing…I heard that throughout the day and felling paralyzed…ALL HAPPENED . I am very scared to go to sleep now. I STILL don’t know if it happened in my sleep or it happened when i suddenly woke up and just continued the entire day or if it REALLY did happen. I’m just very nervous and scared because I don’t know and can’t ask my family. Someone PLEASE give me advice or comfort that it was not real or a nightmare or this condition. Either way whatever happened to me is something I never want to go through again.

  3. Nicole Perez Reply

    Believe it or not, but I’m on the age of 12, I just experienced this 2 times, the first was pretty freaky… The first time I experienced this was me trying to wake up and open my eyes but my eyes were glued shut, I tried to get up but it was I’d i were pinned downed to my bed, I broke into a terrible sweat and tried moving my toes but I was paralyzed, then I tried facing my head up and pain struck my head, and radio static sounds start happened as I did that, and I look at a corner and saw this weird creature staring at me, first it looked like my mom, then some random person, and this weird monster looking thing. Until I had the ability to move my right arm and spilled water on me so I can wake up, and I did so. The second time there was no creepy character but this time it was worst. I was trying to open my eyes but my body was refusing, I felt “nerves” passing my head, I had terrible migraine, and I was trying breathing through my mouth but it was clogged, I tried getting up but sounds of screaming- radio static- and other weird sounds start happening, after a few minutes I finally woke up- but ever since these experiences i’m starting to have anxiety of this, like I feel afraid to sleep. But I think the main cause if because I’m stressing myself with school work. But my main question here is that; is it normal to experience this at the age of 12 ?

  4. Beth Reply

    I experience sleep paralysis only when I am having a migraine. It used to be a theme, but when I started exploring them and looking up sleep paralysis they went away. Now they are back. They don’t come with every migraine but they are here. I am definitely not in the age range. I am over 50. I don’t understand the connection between them and migraines

  5. Yayoo Reply

    I started having sleep paralysis when i was 18. I’m 23 now. The reason it started is my stressful life.
    I was always afraid of going to sleep because of my abusive father. In my first sleeping paralysis i saw a my father standing at my door and moving very slowly, maybe trying to attack me.
    After that it happened every night that i had to sleep with my mother. I realized that its only happening to me when i sleep alone.
    My dad died a few years ago, but i constantly dreaming about him being alive. And it scares me. When i wake up, i feel relieved that it was just a dream, he is not alive.
    I got mental health issues (BPD) and probably this causes me the paralysis and vivid dreams.

  6. Angela M Reply

    Has anyone found a way to prevent them from happening yet? This is the fourth night in a row for me. I’ve had them since I was young (15 maybe?) and I’m 32 now, but I’ve never had them multiple nights in a row like this before. I don’t think I can take another night of this. There’s no supernatural element to mine, I just can’t move and feel like I’m suffocating and it takes all my strength to wake myself up. When I do, I’m weak and trembling. I can barely type right now, I’m shaking so bad. Thanks.

    • Tim Reply

      Yeah just had one, makes me mad as hell, hopeless I’m 39 had them since a teen, my mine increase when laying on my side it was my left side , I have to sleep on my back,

  7. Charity Caruthers Reply

    Does anyone hear things? I have heard panting (like a dog), static (like a radio), water running, people talking in an the next room when I lived alone, screaming, my name being said by an unknown shadow angel/thing and other stuff. Also have felt an arm around my middle pulling me down, someone holding my wrists down. I have gotten pretty good at waking myself up by moving my feet, but takes extreme willpower. Triggers for me are being too hot, laying on my back or long daytime naps, sometimes being sick. This started when I was 15/16, im now almost 38. It seems to happen less often but maybe I don’t notice it as much. I have extremely vivid dreams and feels like im trapped in a dream within a dream (hard to explain). Anywho, I never believed it to be supernatural or anything. Just curious about others experiences and looking to share mine. Thanks

    • Mz Reply

      Hello

      I have experience the same thing I I’m now 31 an still having the same issues since as far as I can remember like you mentioned I became very good waking up from them but still very scare . My problem is that I go through them very often I think more than usual at times all week to 3 times a week i need help

    • Kelsey Reply

      Auditory Hallucinations are common with me. Screaming/Panting/clear as day, conversations. Over heating is a trigger. For example: If I’m wearing a sweatshirt or socks an I overheat it elevates the paralysis. One night I “woke up,” more so, aware. I felt a presence and saw a dark figure. My hair was being pulled (head feeling stuck). The pressure on my body being pinned down increased. I could hear breathing then grumbling then screaming. Trying to move I felt like I wasn’t breathing. Eventually these things dissipated and I was able to sit up. It was really freaky. Sometimes I feeling like I’m a rag doll being spun but unable to move.

      I experienced night terrors as a child but I am 25 and these have only increased. I woke up the day out of an attack and my face was numb for two hours after.

  8. Paulo Reply

    Sometimes I feel like I cant move or paralyzed after staying up late studying. Cant move at all in the morning evntho I know I have to get up.

  9. Angela Reply

    I’ve had sleep paralysis from age 15-27, if you need any personal accounts for you paper let me know in the comments below.

  10. Jeff B Reply

    I have felt this before. It usually happens in the morning after a late night. Can’t move my arms or legs. a bit freaky.

  11. Stephen ndungu Reply

    I have been experiencing the same and the best prevention is to take at least 1.5 litres to 2litres of water daily. I was very severe but when I started taking sufficient water it disappeared. In fact it comes when u are feeling so sleepy at night and your mind is active. I am from Kenya

    • Jeff B Reply

      I do not think that there is any association between water and sleep paralysis.

  12. Spener Pappas Reply

    Has people ever died from sleep paralysis? (doing this as a school project)

    • Brandon Rivera Reply

      While people are still commenting…. Interesting.
      I just felt mine a few mins ago. I was in a car on my way back to my house and my mouth was opened. I tried closing it but my mouth was moving by itself. I had no control over it. It was opening and closing fast. And then I tried to move my head forward and I couldn’t even do that. I was freaking out that I had to use my hand to bring my face forward. It was crazy. Never happened to me before

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