Sleep Paralysis – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

You might be terrified by nightmares in the middle of your sleep along with an inability to move your body, walk or speak up to anyone. The condition is known as Sleep paralysis which is often found in general sleepers. According to research, 40% population usually suffer from one or more than one episodes of paralysis in their sleep.

Many people are researching this matter, but still, scientists, as well as the doctors, cannot identify the exact cause behind this temporary dysfunction of your voluntary muscles.

Neil Kline published a theory that crossover occurs during the sleep which is known as Rapid Eye Movement. When in the REM phase, the muscles become atonic and we are essentially paralyzed and cannot hurt ourselves during dreaming.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

It is defined as a state of mind when you are either awake or completely dozed in sleep and unable to perform a movement or speak. The condition results in such a scary feeling that you might start hearing or feel the surrounding objects which do not exist in real life. You might be the one who experiences this phase once or more than once in your lifetime. The episodes of sleep paralysis usually last at least for a few minutes.

It happens during one of the transitions of your sleep stages. These stages are defined as hypnagogic sleep i.e. when fallen asleep or Hypnopompic phase i.e. when you are completely awake. The human body needs to enter the REM phase and come out of it to avoid the episodes of sleep paralysis. When such transitions do not occur, then the body experiences the sleep paralysis.

Which Individuals Are More Prone To Experience The Episodes Of Sleep Paralysis?

The condition is usually found in individuals who are patients of narcolepsy or might occur in healthy people as well. It can also be considered as a genetic condition because it occurs due to some alterations in genes and the condition then runs in families. According to the research, around 10-50% of individuals suffer from sleep paralysis during some stages in their lifetime. However, there are 5% of individuals who undergo episodes of sleep paralysis regularly during their life. You cannot discriminate the people who are affected by sleep paralysis based on their gender. This condition has a very strong history and was played in many paranormal events, stories or plays.

According to the study conducted on university students, we can easily derive the prevalence rates of people suffering from sleep paralysis. The studies conclude that 8% general population, 32% psychiatric patients and 28% of students suffer from sleep paralysis in their lifetime.

Types of Sleep Paralysis

There are 2 forms of sleep paralysis which is known as recurrent sleep paralysis & isolated sleep paralysis. The recurrent type of sleep paralysis is not known much, however, it is estimated that 15-45% individuals from this type of sleep paralysis. The isolated sleep paralysis is often found in patients suffering from a condition known as Narcolepsy. This condition is found in around 30-50% of individuals.

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Sleep Paralysis Symptoms

Sleep Paralysis Symptoms

The symptoms linked to sleep paralysis are as follows:

Inability to move

You cannot feel your hand or move them around even when you are awake. Individuals share that they cannot move their body even they are awake in their consciousness.

Start hearing sounds

You start imagining sounds which are not present in real such as the buzzing, humming, hissing, static or zapping sounds. People report that they hear such dreadful sounds while asleep or awake. Other individuals also hear the sounds of roars, voices or whispers.

Experience pain

The individuals do feel pain along with paranoid feelings, sweating, headaches as well as muscle pain.

Fearful & dreadful feeling

This symptom is usually found in sleep paralysis i.e. you feel intense emotions which are linked with fearful and panic attacks. Individuals experience the intense fearful feelings once they are done with the episode of sleep paralysis. Some people feel it so strongly that they link it with the sense of attempting suicide or being dead. The episodes of sleep paralysis lead to the fight-flight response.

Real perception of things happening in surroundings

People who suffer from the episodes of sleep paralysis start visualizing things in their surroundings which are not happening in their real life. They cannot discriminate between the objects placed in their surroundings such as an alarm clock or their sleep partner.

Sense of experiencing flight or you start being pulled

Some people feel like flying or they experience that they are dragged from their bed and sense the numbness with tingling sensations,

Feel a malevolent or some type of evil presence

People who suffer from sleep paralysis do feel a sense of being occupied by the evil or some form of a malevolent presence in their body or the surroundings which they might sense.

Back sleepers

The episodes of sleep paralysis are commonly found in individuals who are back sleepers and lie down in the supine position. However, most individuals avoid sleeping in such a posture.

Time period for experiencing sleep paralysis

The episodes of sleep paralysis complete in around 1-2 minutes as claimed by Mayo Clinic.

Sleep Paralysis Hallucinations

Hallucination is one of the most common symptoms which is linked to sleep paralysis when the human brain is in the dreamy situation. The hallucinations can be olfactory, physical and might be auditory. The most commonly known hallucinations are footsteps approaching towards your, the doors opening or closing, growling of the animals, scratching, buzzing or beeping sounds and smell of flesh, decayed or rotten body as well as the molds.

People who suffer from sleep paralysis visualize ghosts, demons, and strange apparitions. In this condition, people experience hypnogogic hallucinations such as the supernatural creatures which are terrifying and result in suffocation.

You experience the chest crushing and difficulty in breathing properly. The chest is felt like being pressed on by the external force. The chest pressure is also experienced as a sensual feeling.

The hallucinations are also felt in the form of shadows running in your room or lurking over the windows when you suffer from sleep paralysis. These hallucinations are experienced due to the fearful or somatic sensations.

The neurological hypothesis suggests that a mechanism is responsible for the coordination of bodily movements with body postures when you experience sleep paralysis. However, this is not the actual body movement because of which you feel like floating in the air.

The different forms of hallucinations include the following:

  • Incubus
  • Intruder
  • Vestibular-motor disorientation

Incubus and intruder are the ones which correlate with each other while vestibular-motor disorientation is an out-of-body sense which involves the vigilance system.

Sleep Paralysis Causes

The causes of sleep paralysis include the following:

Sleep deprivation

Sleep paralysis is highly common in conditions in which the people suffer from sleep deprivation. Dr. Kline advises the patients to sleep well at night to avoid episodes of sleep paralysis. However, people usually experience sleep deprivation due to social and working pressure in our society.

Psychological stress

Stressful situations are another common factor which increases your chances to undergo sleep paralysis. Try to change your lifestyle and avoid the stressful environment.

Altered and disturbed sleep cycles

Sleep paralysis is common in people suffering from narcolepsy which is a condition of disturbed sleep cycles. When people suffer from narcolepsy, they sleep well at daytime and not at night, due to which they more commonly experience sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder.


According to Mayo Clinic, youth is another factor which results in sleep paralysis because the young generation prefers to stay late at night and enjoy parties or work late at night. It is more commonly found in people aged 10-25 years. It is seen in people suffering from PTSD i.e. the post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorder, which was reported in a publication by National Institutes of Health in 2017.

Genetic abnormality

A study was conducted on over 862 siblings along with the twins and it was noticed that those who suffered from genetic abnormality suffered from the sleep paralysis. This study was published in a Journal of Sleep Research which states that the circadian rhythms are associated with sleep paralysis.

Can You Die From Sleep Paralysis?

This condition is not considered dangerous but is for sure scary. The perception you assume after experiencing an episode of sleep paralysis is very important because it affects your health. Some individuals believe in the consumption of stimulants to keep themselves awake while others stay awake all night to avoid the episodes of recurrent sleep paralysis which is extremely unhealthy.

When you are asleep you do not know the exact happenings around you due to which you believe in demons or yourself being kidnapped by attackers or aliens. Your sleep partners or family members start assuming that you have gone crazy and sent you the psychiatrists to get you treated for the psychotic issues. So, does the sleep paralysis result in death? It does not serve as a direct factor for death but results in an indirect factor of death. Sleep paralysis does not result in death but the hallucinations which are associated with it are deeply terrifying and dreadful.


The sleep paralysis is diagnosed initially with a clinical interview, complete history, and observation. It allows doctors to distinguish between other sleeping disorders with sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy is one of the main disorder which is linked to sleep paralysis. It has very high prevalence rates which links it with sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy is a condition which can be ruled out based on a genetic test. Other reliable tests for ruling out sleep paralysis include the following:

  • Parasomnia screening
  • Isolated and fearful personal interviews with patients suffering from sleep paralysis


There are no available treatment options which have gained attention in terms of treating sleep paralysis. However, medical science is performing various studies and research in this field. The doctors advise the patients that sleep paralysis is not a serious condition, however, it is very common. Some efforts are encouraged to treat sleep paralysis which includes the:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Antidepressants
  • Sleep hygiene
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Medications to Treat Sleep Paralysis

Medications to Treat Sleep Paralysis

For initiating the medical treatment, you need to educate the patients about the sleep stages along with the reduced movement of muscles while you are asleep. The doctors should evaluate these patients for narcolepsy as it is very common in such patients. It is advised by the sleep specialists to follow the healthy sleeping patterns. However, antidepressants such as Tricyclic antidepressants and SSRI or selective serotonin uptake inhibitors are advised to people suffering from serious conditions. Despite these drugs are prescribed to such patients, it is advised to consume no drug for treating the sleep paralysis.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

The CA-CBT is also used for the treatment of sleep paralysis. It focuses on modifying the psycho-education or catastrophic cognition which is associated with sleep paralysis.

Meditation therapy

It is considered as one of the direct approaches which aid in reducing the episodes of sleep paralysis. According to a hypothesis, this therapy was derived which states that muscle movement during sleep paralysis leads to the neurological distortions in which the individual visualizes one’s image and triggers the hallucinations regarding the human-shadows.

This approach is based on 4 steps which include:

  • Cognitive appraisal
  • Emotional regulation
  • Focused meditation
  • Muscle relaxation

How to Prevent Sleep Paralysis?

Multiple risk factors are associated with sleep paralysis. These factors include stressful conditions, insomnia, physical fatigue, altered sleep schedule, and sleep deprivation. Many studies and research are conducted in this field which states that the genetic factor is responsible for developing the episodes of sleep paralysis. Monozygotic twins are more prone to experience episodes of sleep paralysis. Lying down in the supine position is also an instigator which results in sleep paralysis.

The back sleepers are more prone to sleep paralysis because their soft palate is collapsed resulting in obstruction of the airway. This happens with any individual whether they suffer from sleep apnea or not. You are at high risk to suffer from micro-arousals while asleep in the supine position because there is extreme pressure on your lungs due to gravity.

Preventive Measures

  • Make some lifestyle changes to have a better life without experiencing sleep paralysis.
  • Observe hygiene while asleep.
  • Avoid taking stimulants or stressful situations.
  • Visit a trained professional or a psychiatrist to help you get rid of stressful situations.
  • Genetic mutation can also result in sleep paralysis which is unavoidable.
  • Practice meditation that allows you to sleep well at night. Different research suggests that long-term meditation practices allow you to sleep peacefully and aids in decreased episodes of sleep paralysis.
  • Allow your muscles to relax.
  • Follow the diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Mindfulness

Tips To Wake Up From An Episode Of Sleep Paralysis

  • Avoid pulling yourself in the opposite direction when you feel a sense of dragged or being pulled down from the bed as fighting back results in a fearful emotion. It increases the fear of intense emotions. So start controlling your fear to avoid recurrent episodes of sleep paralysis.
  • Stay as calm and relaxed as possible because it allows you to fight the episodes of sleep paralysis. If you feel pressure over your chest, just go through it instead of fighting against it.
  • Focus on some figure which is highly admirable such as a religious belief or personality or some spiritual feeling that helps in staying calm and safe.
  • You can ask your sleep partner to help you in the prevention of sleep paralysis.
  • You can also manage to cough which helps in avoiding the sleep paralysis.
  • Some people state that wiggling the toes helps in fighting back sleep paralysis. You can also wiggle your toe or another extremity. Most individuals experience paralysis in throat, belly or chest so it’s better to focus on your toes and start moving them.
  • You can also clench and unclench the fist to get rid of an episode of sleep paralysis.
  • Observe controlled breathing which helps in getting rid of sleep paralysis and the nightmares linked with them. Controlling the breathing pattern aids in fear management which is linked with sleep paralysis.

After you have stopped the episode of sleep paralysis, it is better to switch on the lights and wash your face with water and do not stay in bed as it increases your chance to get an episode of sleep paralysis.

Final Words

So, to conclude bear in mind that “prevention is better than cure”. It is recommended to follow the simple preventive tips to avoid the episodes of sleep paralysis which are very disturbing.

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