What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis, a daunting sleep disorder, has always been prevalent. Have you heard of the term Parasomnia? Parasomnia means all abnormal or unusual things that can happen to a person when they sleep. With that said, not everyone recognizes sleep paralysis as a Parasomnia in their life. For those who have, it is a particularly frightening experience. For example, people describe it as the familiar feeling of being “awake” but unable to move. Next, we dive into the in’s and outs of this sleep disorder.

What’s Happening?

Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is passing between deep sleep and being awake. Sometimes this happens when you’re falling asleep or you are waking up. Because of this, it can be very frightening at times. Imagine having a dream about someone being in the room with you. What happens is that your brain cannot process that this is a dream. Then again, because you are asleep, you are unable to speak or move. And this can feel very scary.

Sleep paralysis occurs in two different ways. First, it depends on whether you are falling asleep or are awake. When you are asleep it is only a matter of your body relaxing. Once this happens, you became less aware and slip into a state of sleep. In this instance, sleep paralysis occurs when you do become aware of falling asleep.

With that said, sleep paralysis also happens when you are waking up. It is a matter of your body alternating between rapid and non-rapid eye movement. NREM and REM are the two cycles your body goes through when you sleep. For about 3/4 of the time, we are sleeping in a state of NREM.

What does this mean? Well, our body is taking the time to relax and restore. Now, when we shift into REM, our body remains relaxed. So much so that our muscles are almost turned off. During this cycle, as suggested by its name, are eyes move at a rapid rate. Also, this is the stage where we begin to dream. Sleep paralysis occurs when you “wake up” during this REM cycle. Or when we become aware before the REM cycle finishes. During this time, it can feel like you are awake, but unable to move or speak.

Why Does This Occur?

It is not exactly clear why sleep paralysis takes place. Whatever the reasons, it disturbs both sleep and the REM cycle. Studies have shown that sleep paralysis may be a condition that runs in one’s family. It may also be due to lack of sleep. Did you know there are other less known reasons for this lack of sleep? They include the following:

  • Fluctuating sleep schedule
  • Lack of mental health
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Substance abuse
  • Painful leg cramps
  • Narcolepsy
  • Researchers have also found another interesting finding. Often, medications cause sleep paralysis. Hence, your doctor needs to keep track of them.


    The best way to treat sleep paralysis is to treat the cause. In other words, doctors look at what is causing the condition. For example, if someone experiences sleep paralysis after beginning a new medication. It is logical that you would discuss switching medications with your doctor. Sometimes sleep paralysis starts because of leg cramps. Then you could try light stretching before bed. Also, applying muscle relaxing cream or taking herbal medication. These methods help to improve blood flow. Another common medication linked to this Parasomnia is antidepressants. This also occurs as people address other mental health issues.

    All in all, sleep paralysis is a normal occurrence. While it is scary, there is nothing to fear. Would you like to know what steps to take if you are experiencing this? Please know that if your conditions persist, you should speak to a sleep specialist. Not everyone is able to rule out the cause on their own. At Sleep MD, we will help you take back control of your sleep. As well as offer the proper steps to do so.

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