Sleep paralysis is described as an inability to move or speak during sleep transitions. Some people try to shout or ask for help, but this only comes out as a soft voice. For example, you might just be able to whisper, scream, groan, or whine. Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move that occurs immediately after falling asleep or waking up.
People stay conscious during episodes, which often involve disturbing hallucinations and a feeling of suffocation. As you fall asleep or wake up, your brain sends signals that relax your arm and leg muscles. The resulting muscle atony helps you stay still during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. With sleep paralysis, you regain consciousness but you can't move.
Sleep paralysis occurs between wakefulness and sleep. During episodes, people may experience hypnopomypic or hypnagogic hallucinations, which can be visual, auditory, and sensory. These are hallucinations that occur when a person wakes up or falls asleep, respectively. When you sleep on your back, you're more likely to wake up from sleep or wake up during the sleep phase, due to things like snoring and undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.
People have long sought explanations for this mysterious bedtime paralysis and the feelings of terror that accompany it. Treating any underlying condition, such as narcolepsy, can help if you are anxious or unable to sleep well. And it's more common in the context of lack of sleep in association with a change in sleep schedule, which can happen if you're a college student or doing shift work. If you have a lack of sleep that goes away and comes back, you should check with your healthcare provider.
There is no specific treatment for sleep paralysis, but managing stress, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and observing good sleep habits can reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis. For example, the pile of clothes in your chair could turn into a person sitting watching you sleep, or the light in your alarm clock could transform into a red-eyed monster. It happens just when a person falls asleep or wakes up and is the result of the body and mind being out of sync. It is estimated that 75% of sleep paralysis episodes involve hallucinations that are different from typical dreams.
If they suspect that episodes may be the result of other conditions, they may recommend that a person participate in a sleep study. Sleep paralysis is a condition identified by a brief loss of muscle control, known as atony, that occurs just after falling asleep or waking up. During sleep paralysis, a person may experience auditory and visual hallucinations, which can cause significant distress. It can also help consolidate sleep, try to prevent sleep deprivation, and avoid alcohol and recreational drug use.
This rare brain disorder causes a person to fall asleep or lose muscle control at unexpected or inappropriate times. A first step in treating sleep paralysis is to talk to a doctor to identify and address underlying problems that may be contributing to the frequency or severity of episodes. Sleep disorders and other sleep problems have shown some of the strongest correlations with isolated sleep paralysis.