The Science Of Sleep Paralysis: Signs, Causes, Treatments

Sleep paralysis – the condition is as scary as it sounds to be. You have just woken up from sleep. You try to stretch your body or move your blanket. But you suddenly realize that you cannot move. You frantically begin to move around and figure out what is holding you back. You cannot speak or make a sound. There is nothing you can do. You are in sleep paralysis. 

After just a few minutes or even seconds, this scary experience is over. You try to wiggle and move your fingers, make sense of your surroundings, and your heart rate finally returns to normal. 

If you have experienced the condition, you know how scary and uncomfortable it can get. However, you might not have known that it has a name to it. This inability to wake from sleep, which is frequently accompanied by hallucinations, is called sleep paralysis. 

Let us dive deeper into what is sleep paralysis, its signs, causes, and treatment options.

sleep paralysis

What Is Sleep Paralysis?

Simply put, sleep paralysis is a condition when your mind is awake but you are not able to move or speak. When we sleep every night, our body goes through different stages of sleep. One of these stages is the rapid eye movement stage, where you generally see dreams. Your muscles are temporarily paralyzed to stop your body from acting out or moving in your dreams. Mostly your muscles become unparalyzed and get back to normal before you notice anything strange. 

When sleep paralysis occurs, this process of becoming unparalyzed becomes slow. There is a delay between your REM stage ending and your body coming out of the stage. This means that your mind is awake and conscious of what is happening around you, but your body is still in a state of rest and unable to move. 

While sleep paralysis is not a dangerous or life-threatening situation, it can cause a lot of stress once the episode is over. People start getting paranoid about the episode occurring again, which causes anxiety and sleep disturbances. This can, in turn, lead to more frequent episodes of sleep paralysis, thus starting a toxic cycle.


Sleep paralysis is different in different individuals. However, the most common symptoms include the following:

  • inability to speak, move, or open your eyes,
  • feeling a pressure in your chest known as the incubus phenomenon,
  • difficulty in breathing,
  • having hallucinations,
  • having out-of-body experiences like feeling like floating, etc.

Read more: 13 Best Yoga Poses For Sleep


Health experts and scientists are unsure about the exact cause of sleep paralysis. However, the condition has been linked with several conditions, including:

  • narcolepsy – finding it hard to stay awake for long periods or falling asleep suddenly,
  • seizure disorders, and
  • mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, etc.

Treatment Options

While it is difficult to control when or how will your next sleep paralysis experience occur, there are several things you can do to reduce the probability of their occurrence. These include the following:

  • avoiding sleeping on your back,
  • reducing stress, 
  • maintain a sleep routine,
  • reduce noise or light around your sleeping space, and
  • get adequate sleep every night.

Treatment options are generally concerned with treating the underlying diseases attached to sleep paralysis, if any. If such episodes constantly hamper your regular life, consult with a medical professional as soon as possible. 

Read more: Master Your Sleep & Be More Alert When Awake


Sleep paralysis is marked by episodes of being unable to move or speak while waking up or falling asleep. While the hallucinations and overall stress of the situation can make it frightening, it does not cause any apparent harm to the person. By treating the underlying diseases, improving your sleeping habits, and with the help of professional help, you can effectively recover from the condition.

Guided sleep meditation is an excellent way to improve your sleep patterns. To learn more about it, click here.

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