Sleep Paralysis (Inability to Move While Asleep) Causes, Treatment

sleep paralysis

Due to the horrific experience that comes with sleep paralysis, there is a high tendency that people will have misconception about it. This article clears the air on sleep paralysis, its causes, symptoms and treatment.

Here are some commonly asked questions and my answers

Is sleep paralysis is a spiritual attack?

Can sleep paralysis happen to anyone?

Can you die from sleep paralysis?

If you want quick details, then you will love this infographic on sleep paralysis. It is an executive summary of the whole article.​

sleep paralysis treatment

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary loss of control over one's body during or immediately after waking up or at the point of entering into sleep. It is a transitional state between being awake and being in a state of sleep.

In simple terms it can be described as a state of being conscious but unable to move or even speak.

Sleep paralysis is usually accompanied by hallucinations, strange physical presence and an experience of suffocation usually due to pressure one chest or strangulation from an intruder in form of a sleep paralysis demon or a human presence.

As simple as it may sound in writing, it is not in anyway a palatable experience. In fact is one of the most dreadful experiences one can pass through.

Imagine going to bed in the night with the hope of waking up by morning and getting to your normal daily routine.

All of a sudden you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself unable to move any part of your body except you eyelids.

Combine that with an ominous feeling of someone lurking outside your window or a terrible looking demon sitting on your chest and pressing you down keeping you from breathing. Imagine how dreadful that can be.

That's exactly what happens when you have sleep paralysis. It's simply like "waking up dead."

Sleep paralysis is a short term phenomenon. Usually lasting from a few seconds to some minutes and an hour of two on rare occasions. It is rarely life threatening. Aside the psychological stress of waking up without your body and the feeling of being oppressed by demonic forces, it has no known direct health consequence.

How Sleep Paralysis Occurs

Sleep paralysis can be broadly grouped into two types based on the period of sleep it occurs. This can be

Predormital or Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis

This occurs while you are falling asleep. It is the less common type of sleep paralysis.

During hypnagogic sleep paralysis, as you fall asleep, your body relaxes slowly and you become less aware of your surrounding. This subtle change in your body is usually if however you remain aware or become aware all of a sudden while your body is trying to fall asleep then you will notice the change in your body (inability to move or speak)

Postdormital or Hypnapompic Sleep Paralysis

This occurs while you are waking up. This is the more common form of sleep paralysis experienced by people.

It occurs as a result of irregularities in the REM(rapid eye movement ) and NREM (non rapid eye movement ) cycle which your body undergoes during sleep.

These two cycles occur in succession during your sleep every night. The NREM which is the normal sleep state make up for most of the time (about 75% of the time ) while the REM sleep occurs in the rest of the time (about 25%).

REM sleep also know as paradoxical sleep is a stage of your sleep when powerful dreams usually occur. Your body has been designed to handle this stage of your sleep where the body is overexcited compared to the NREM state.

To prevent your body from acting out your dream like you do when you sleep walk, a measure is put in place by your brain to keep you safe.

What your brain does is to release certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) which induces a sort of paralysis. This is a temporary measure and is meant to wear off the very moment you become conscious. But in cases where you become conscious while your body is still in the induced paralysis state of the REM, then sleep paralysis occurs.

The hallucinations and feeling of dread experienced during sleep paralysis can also be attributed to a neurological response of your brain. An hyper vigilant state created in the brain as an emergency response to the strange experience of waking up and realizing that you are completely paralyzed and vulnerable. In this state of heightened fear, every external stimulus is perceived as a threat.

The inability or difficulty in breathing is merely due to the inability to control voluntarily your breathing which is directly linked to your general muscle paralysis experience do during dream paralysis.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis occur as a first experience in individuals during their teen years. In most cases it becomes a rare experience after that (once in a lifetime for some people), this is known as an isolated sleep paralysis (ISP) in other cases how very it becomes more frequent and lasts longer throughout the person's lifetime, this is known as the recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP).

Apart from genetics which has been identified as a major possible cause, other possible causes include:

  • Lack of sleep or irregularity of sleeping schedule
  • Mental conditions like stress and depression
  • Sleeping position especially when you sleep in a supine position with your back rested on the bed.
  • Substance abuse and use of certain medications

When is Sleep Paralysis a Concern?

Its first occurence is not something to be overtly worried about and shouldn't warrant a visit to the clinic. Usually, a recurrence is unlikely to occur. So has no direct medical implications and it is rarely life threatening.

However, if it becomes more frequent and lasts for longer, or is leading to a constant feeling of anxiety and fear then you might need to get that doctor's appointment or talk to a sleep specialist to ascertain if the paralysis is just a symptom of a more severe medical disorder.

Treatment of Sleep Paralysis

Rare episodes of sleep paralysis does not require any urgent medical attention. In fact no known cure is available since its not listed as a medical disorder.

It may merely be as a result of an unhealthy sleeping lifestyle which might require slight modifications. In that case the first thing to do will be to check your sleeping habits and make certain adjustments.

Some of the adjustments include;​

  • Having a more regular sleeping time has been known to help too.
  • Avoid taking heavy meals at least 3 hours before sleep
  • Endeavour not to use nicotine or alcohol at night times too as they may be trigger factors.
  • Reduce stress and physical pressure as they may be causative factors.
  • Regular exercise may be effective for people with sleep paralysis

For those experiencing more severe cases,

  • Some antidepressant medications such as tricyclic antidepressant or serotonin reuptake inhibitors may be recommended by a sleep specialist.
  • Herbs and supplements such as valerian, chamomile, melatonin may also be helpful.
  • There might also be a need to evaluate the individual for other severe underlying causes such as several conditions like narcolepsy


A good education of the subject of sleep paralysis is also important in order to keep your mind at rest and prevent panic during the episode.

Knowing that what you are experiencing is just a passing phase which will wear off with time helps keep you more at rest and less susceptible to fear. Despite being a dreadful experience, sleep paralysis poses little or no threat to your life whatsoever.

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