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Sleep Paralysis
Sleep Paralysis

Things You Should Know About Sleep Paralysis


Titilayo Ilori
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening; temporarily experience an inability to move, thereby being paralyzed.
More formally, it is a transition state between wakefulness and rest characterized by complete muscle atonia or muscle weakness. It is often associated with terrifying visions (e.g. an intruder in the room), to which one is unable to react due to paralysis.
During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds or up to a few minutes.
Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as Narcolepsy, which is an overpowering need to sleep, caused by a problem with the brain’s ability to regulate sleep, migraines, anxiety disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea; however, it can also occur in isolation. When linked to another disorder, sleep paralysis commonly occurs in association with the neurological sleep disorder narcolepsy
Although there are several theories, the actual cause of sleep paralysis is still unknown. However, several factors have been identified that may increase the chances of having an episode:
  • Sleeping in a face upwards or supine position
  • Irregular sleeping schedules; naps, sleeping in, sleep deprivation
  • Increased stress
  • Sudden environmental/lifestyle changes
  • A lucid dream that immediately precedes the episode.
Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it’s called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it happens as you are waking up, it’s called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis and the symptoms are as follows
  • Paralysis: occurs after waking up or just before falling asleep. You cannot move any body part, aside from involuntary movements such as blinking and breathing.                     “This paralysis is the same paralysis that occurs when dreaming. The brain paralyzes the muscles to prevent possible injury during dreams, as some body parts may move during dreaming. If the person wakes up suddenly, the brain may still think that it is dreaming, and sustains the paralysis.”
  • Hallucinations: Images or sounds that appear during the episode. The sensation that someone is standing beside you or somewhere in the room. Strange sounds. Some people feel a heavy weight on their chest, as if they are being sat on.
  • Maintain healthy sleeping and eating habits. Get ample sleep and stick to a routine schedule. Limit intake of sugary foods, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Minimize stress and participate in exercise frequently. Stress seems to be a contributing factor to a rise in sleep paralysis incidents. Exercise alleviates stress and improves sleep quality.
  • Maintain a journal of your daily activities, diet and sleep schedule. Look for patterns, such as increased incidents of sleep paralysis on days you went to sleep late.
  • Sit up and look at a bright light for a few minutes if you find yourself experiencing sleep paralysis upon going to sleep.
  • Attempt to end sleep paralysis by moving smaller muscle groups, such as those in your face, fingers, toes or tongue.
  • Wake yourself up from sleep paralysis episodes by taking increasingly bigger breaths.
  • Consult with your doctor to determine if your sleep paralysis can be attributed to another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. Participate in a sleep study if necessary.
  • Review side effects of current medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Some medications increase sleeps paralysis incidents.