Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder resulting in the inability to move the body, before or after you wake up, despite being awake and conscious. In this state, you will most likely lose the ability to speak and move any muscle, except your eyes, causing you to feel paralyzed.
As if this is not startling enough, the disorder is often accompanied by hallucinations. You may see and even hear things that are nowhere to be found. Creatures in a shadowlike form, the sound of a footstep or a voice, and the assurance that someone is present in the room with you are all common descriptions from people who suffer from sleep paralysis. This often leaves a feeling of fear and can cause the person to feel anxious and dread going to sleep.
Even though it can be very frightening, sleeping paralysis is not a dangerous disorder. You will still be able to breathe normally and the episode will usually pass by in a few seconds or minutes. Being aware of what is happening might help calm you down during an episode.
Sleep paralysis generally takes place in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of our sleep, the stage where dreaming occurs. Normally, when we sleep, our brain sends signals to the muscles, causing them to relax completely as if they were paralyzed. This prevents you from acting out your dream while sleeping and invigorates your muscles. When we wake up, our brain immediately stops these signals and we can move again, without ever knowing that our muscles were completely “paralyzed” just a few seconds ago. However, these signals sometimes seem to go awry, causing us to wake up only to find out we cannot move at all. Our brain seems to be awake while our body is still in sleep mode.
Sleep paralysis most often appears in the teen years and can be prominent in your 20s and 30s. The symptoms tend to emerge during stressful times or when you suffer from a lack of sleep. It is therefore recommended to keep a consistent sleep schedule, stay away from caffeine and alcohol, exercise regularly, and limit screen time right before sleep.
It is worthwhile to mention that sleep paralysis can be a sign of narcolepsy, which is a dangerous disorder. However, narcolepsy is uncommon and has other, much more prominent, symptoms as well.
References and further information can be found on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s website: