Sleep paralysis: causes, symptoms, and treatments
Photo by Ivan Oboleninov :

Sleep paralysis is an impressive but benign disorder.

We recognize it in the following situation: you are in full sleep and you wake up, but cannot move… In short, you feel like a prisoner of your own body.

What are the signs of sleep paralysis? How do explain this phenomenon? Should we be worried about it? Can we cure it? Here are our explanations.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis, very common, is a parasomnia, that is to say, a sleep disorder, which occurs:

  • during sleep ;
  • on the edge between waking and sleeping;
  • falling asleep;
  • wake.

Indeed, it generally occurs during the REM sleep phase, a 90-minute cycle that occurs after falling asleep and which follows the slow wave sleep phase.

Concretely, it manifests itself when the person is in REM sleep and is about to wake up. It can also take place shortly after falling asleep, in the switch from wakefulness to sleep.

Sleep paralysis: Symptoms

A person experiencing sleep paralysis feels awake. She tries to wake up from her sleep, but can’t. She cannot move her body, as if paralyzed but is quite aware of her surroundings, such as her bed or surrounding noises.

Unable to move, the person tries to scream, in vain. Some people who experience sleep paralysis also report:

  • a feeling of suffocation;
  • the threatening presence of a person: these are only visual or auditory hallucinations.

But rest assured, during an episode of sleep paralysis, the person breathes normally.

This phenomenon lasts only a few seconds or even a few minutes at most, but it is very distressing and very frightening for the person who experiences it.

What causes sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is not a paranormal phenomenon or visiting the dead during sleep, as some like to believe. There is a scientific explanation for sleep paralysis.

Remember that this disorder occurs during the phase of paradoxical sleep, the one during which brain activity is intense and dreams follow one another. The person thinks he is conscious, but really he is between a dream and reality. His senses are deceived.

During this phase, the brain works at full speed, hence the sometimes slightly crazy dreams that we can have, but it no longer communicates with the muscles. 

If the body is atonic, it is so that we do not get agitated during our sleep and that we hurt ourselves while living our dreams in an intense way. It is a natural protection of the organism.

This disconnect between the brain and the muscles is fortunately short-lived. However, it is precise during this time that the person feels paralyzed in their sleep because their brain is “awakened” but not the rest of their body.

What are the risk factors for sleep paralysis?

About 30% of the population has experienced or will experience at least one episode of sleep paralysis in their lifetime.

Certain factors can promote the onset of this benign sleep disorder, such as:

  • age: people who report one or more episodes of sleep paralysis are often teenagers or young adults;
  • the stress ;
  • anxiety;
  • a change of life: move, bereavement, divorce, new job;
  • lack of sleep ;
  • poor quality sleep;
  • narcolepsy cataplexy: this sleep disorder, which affects young adults, is characterized by bouts of sleep during the day, and sudden relaxations of muscle tone without loss of consciousness, thereby favoring the occurrence of sleep paralysis.

What to do in case of sleep paralysis?

Easy to say but in case of sleep paralysis, you should not:

  • panic;
  • try at all costs to wake up.

Better to try to let go by thinking of pleasant and soothing things, to try to go back to sleep.

The experience of sleep paralysis can be traumatic and cause apprehension the following night at bedtime. But this disorder is favored by stress and anxiety, be sure to do everything at bedtime to fall asleep peacefully thanks to:

  • reading ;
  • relaxation techniques, for example.

Sleep paralysis: treatments

Sleep paralysis is a benign and most often temporary disorder. There is therefore no particular treatment to get rid of it.

The best way to prevent an episode of sleep paralysis from recurring is to understand the causes of its appearance. Take care of your sleep and learn to manage your stress and anxiety.

On the other hand, if sleep paralysis is frequent or becomes disabling on a daily basis, causing daytime fatigue, it is better to consult a doctor. Antidepressant treatment may be prescribed in the most serious forms.

Image Credit: Photo by Ivan Oboleninov from

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