Sleep Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Stop Them

Sleep paralysis is characterized by the inability of the person to move muscles during sleep. Sleep paralysis is 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
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, sleep paralysis 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 – sometimes associated with sleep paralyasis

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.

Learn more about the common ‘story of sleep paralysis‘ and theories for why we are paralyzed during some stages of sleep.

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14 Replies to “Sleep Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Stop Them”

  1. Beth

    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

  2. Yayoo

    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.

  3. Angela M

    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

      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,

  4. Charity Caruthers

    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


      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

      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.

  5. Paulo

    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.

  6. Stephen ndungu

    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

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