Sleep paralysis: What you should know

Sleep paralysis: What you should know

Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being unable to move; either at the onset of sleep or upon awakening.

Have you found yourself in a situation whereby you found it difficult to move your arms, legs or even your body? It is not a spiritual attack; unlike what many call it.

The individual’s senses and awareness are intact; but they may feel as if there is pressure on them, or as if they are choking.

It may be accompanied by hallucinations and intense fear.


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Sleep paralysis is not life-threatening; but it can cause anxiety. It can happen alongside other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy.

It often starts during adolescence, and it can become frequent; during the 20s and 30s. It is not a serious risk.

Medically, it is a parasomnia; or an undesired event that is associated with sleep.

It happens just after falling asleep or upon awakening in the morning; in the time between waking and sleep.

Episodes are often accompanied by hypnagogic experiences; which are visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations.

Sleep paralysis is brief and not life threatening; but the person may remember it as haunting and horrifying.


While sleeping, the body relaxes; and voluntary muscles do not move. This prevents people from injuring themselves due to acting out dreams. Sleep paralysis involves a disruption; or fragmentation of the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle.

The body alternates between rapid eye movement (REM); and non-rapid eye movement (NREM).

One REM-NREM cycle lasts around 90 minutes; and most of the time spent sleeping is in NREM.

During NREM, the body relaxes. During REM, the eyes move quickly; but the body is relaxed. Dreams occur at this time.


Sleep paralysis


In sleep paralysis, the body’s transition to; or from REM sleep is out of sync with the brain.

The person’s consciousness is awake; but their body remains in the paralyzed sleep state.

The areas of the brain that detect threats are in a heightened state; and overly sensitive.

Factors that have been linked to sleep paralysis include; narcolepsy, irregular sleeping patterns; due, for example, to jet lag or shift work, sleeping on your back among others.

Signs and symptoms include:

An inability to move the body when falling asleep or on waking; lasting for seconds or several minutes.

Consciously awake, unable to speak during the episode; having hallucinations and sensations that cause fear, feeling pressure on the chest, having difficulty breathing.



Sleep paralysis is not normally considered a medical diagnosis; but if symptoms are of concern, it may be a good idea to see a doctor.

Medical attention may help when:

sleep paralysis happens regularly

there is anxiety about going to sleep or difficulty falling asleep

the individual falls asleep suddenly or feels unusually sleepy during the day

Suddenly falling asleep during the day could be a sign of narcolepsy.

If stress or anxiety are present, addressing these may help relieve symptoms.

About The Author

Olanike Akinrimisi

Humanitarian reporter, writer and author

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