What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
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What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder which is characterized by being in a state of wakefulness, but not being able to move or talk. This sleep disorder can be caused by an underlying condition such as narcolepsy.

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder which is characterized by being in a state of wakefulness, but not being able to move or talk. This sleep disorder can be caused by an underlying condition such as narcolepsy. When one experiences sleep paralysis, it can be quite frightening because of the inability to move or call out for help. Some people who suffer from sleep paralysis feel a sense of choking momentarily.

There are two different types of sleep paralysis. If it occurs when you are going to sleep, it is called predormital or hypnagogic sleep paralysis. If sleep paralysis occurs when you are waking up, it is called postdormital or hypnopompic sleep paralysis.

Hypnagogic sleep paralysis

Hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs while you are in a semiconscious state while going to sleep. As you go to sleep, your body becomes relaxed. You may be aware that you are in an altered state of consciousness, between the waking and sleeping state. You may also notice that you are unable to move or speak at this time. During hypnagogic sleep paralysis you may be conscious of dreaming while feeling like you are still awake.

My own experience with hypnagogic sleep paralysis

I experience, what I believe to be hypnagogic sleep paralysis; it only happens to me a few times a year that I am aware of. I don’t find this scary, because I am in an altered state of consciousness. I am more curious about being conscious of the dream I am having. My dreams during hypnagogic sleep are like silent movies in black and gray. It’s kind of like watching an old fuzzy black and white TV with the sound off. I’ve tried to read the lips to figure out what the people in my dream are saying, but I never can. I am a (sort of detached) observer of the dream. I am aware that my muscles don’t work, but it is a comfortable feeling and not frightening at all. I am only aware for a short time and then I must go into a deeper sleep.

Hypnopompic sleep paralysis

Hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs when you are in a semiconscious state upon waking. While you are in this semiconscious state, you may feel that you are fully awake, but you cannot move. Hypnopompic sleep paralysis can be frightening for some people who experience it. Some people, while in this in-between state of being awake and asleep, have dreams that seem very real.

My daughter’s experiences with Hypnopompic sleep paralysis

My daughter occasionally has sleep paralysis just before waking. She describes it as being awake but she cannot speak or move. She also describes a presence in the room. She describes “shadow people” in her room. She sometimes hears the shadow people talking, but she can’t make out what they are saying.

My daughter is very bothered by these episodes of sleep paralysis. She is frightened by them. I’m not sure why mine are peaceful and hers are scary, but we both have our experiences at different times in our sleep pattern.

What causes sleep paralysis?

As a safety precaution our muscles become paralyzed when we are in REM sleep, also known as dream sleep. We become paralyzed during this phase of sleep so that we won’t act out our dreams. When we wake our brain should be switched to the “on position” to allow us to move as we wake up. Simply put – if you suffer from sleep paralysis, there is a momentary delay between the brain waking up and the body waking up.

You may be more likely to suffer from sleep paralysis if your natural sleep pattern changes. Your sleep pattern could become disturbed due to stressful situations, and through the use of certain medications. Other possible causes for this sleep disorder could be from drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes just prior to lying down to sleep. Other factors which may cause sleep paralysis are lack of sleep, change in sleep schedule, and mental conditions such as bipolar depression, stress, substance abuse, sleeping on your back, anxiety, and narcolepsy.

What is the treatment for sleep paralysis?

People who experience sleep paralysis should consult with their physician. There could be an underlying cause for the sleep disturbance. Your doctor may do a history and physical on you. Part of the history will be to ask you questions about your lifestyle and routines. You may be asked about any diseases and conditions that either you or family members have had.

Most people don’t require any treatment for sleep paralysis. If there is an underlying condition causing you to have sleep paralysis, the underlying condition would need to be treated. It is very likely that improving your sleep pattern will help to alleviate the condition. Antidepressants may also be given. Elavil (Amitriptyline) is used frequently to treat people who experience sleep paralysis.


Though it may be frightening to experience sleep paralysis, and you may experience lifelike dreams of “shadow people” or alien abductors, you can remind yourself that it isn’t real. In a few seconds or minutes your muscles will be able to move, you will be able to speak and you will awaken from the semiconscious dream state.

You may not be able to prevent sleep paralysis, but it may help to try new sleeping positions. For instance, if you sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side. If you smoke or drink alcohol, try not to drink or smoke a few hours before going to sleep.





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Comments (5)

Nice Job. I learned something new here.

Thanks Jerry! I learn something from you lots of times too.

I've heard about this, but got most of the clarifications here. Good work, madame.

Thanks Phoenix!

Wow. I didn't know something like this existed! Impressive and scary. But thanks for the education:)