Sleep paralysis is a temporary loss of muscle function while
you’re sleeping. It typically occurs as a person is falling asleep, shortly
after they have fallen asleep, or while they’re waking up.
According to the American
Academy of Sleep Medicine, those with sleep paralysis usually experience this
condition for the first time between the ages of 14 and 17 years old. It is a
fairly common sleep condition. Researchers estimate it occurs in anywhere
between 5 and 40 percent of people.
Episodes of sleep paralysis may occur along with another
sleep disorder known as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes
overwhelming drowsiness and sudden “sleep attacks” throughout the day. However,
according to the Mayo
Clinic, many people who don’t have narcolepsy can still experience sleep
This condition isn’t dangerous. Though it is perhaps
alarming to some, no medical intervention is usually necessary.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis isn’t a medical emergency. Being familiar
with the symptoms can provide peace of mind.
The most common characteristic of an episode of sleep
paralysis is the inability to move or speak. An immobility episode may last for
a few seconds to about two minutes.
Episodes typically end on their own, or when another person
touches or moves you. You may be aware of what’s happening but still unable to
move or speak during an episode. You also may be able to recall the details of
the episode after temporary paralysis disappears.
In rare cases, some people experience dreamlike
hallucinations that may cause fear or anxiety, but these hallucinations are
Sleep Paralysis and Narcolepsy
Sleep paralysis can occur on its own. However, it’s also a
common symptom of narcolepsy.
Signs of narcolepsy include falling asleep suddenly, problems remaining alert
throughout the day, sudden muscle weakness, and vivid hallucinations.
Who Is at Risk for Sleep Paralysis?
Children and adults of all ages can experience sleep
paralysis. However, certain groups are at a higher risk than others. High-risk
groups include people with the following conditions:
stress disorder (PTSD)
In some cases, sleep paralysis
seems to run in families. However, this is rare. There’s no clear scientific
evidence that the condition is hereditary.
Sleeping on your back may increase your chances of an
episode. Lack of sleep may also increase the risk of sleep paralysis.
What Are the Treatment Options for Sleep Paralysis?
Symptoms of sleep paralysis typically resolve within a
matter of minutes and don’t cause any lasting physical effects or trauma.
However, the experience can be quite unsettling and frightening.
Sleep paralysis that occurs in isolation doesn’t typically
require treatment. However, those who also have signs of narcolepsy should
consult a doctor. This is especially important if symptoms interfere with your
work and home life.
Your doctor may wish to conduct a sleep study, called a polysomnography.
The results of the study will help your doctor make a diagnosis, if you are
experiencing sleep paralysis and other symptoms of narcolepsy. This type of
study requires an overnight stay at a hospital or sleep center.
A doctor will place electrodes on your chin, scalp, and at
the outer edge of your eyelids. The electrodes measure electrical activity in
your muscles and brain waves. Your doctor will also monitor your breathing and
heart rate. In some cases, a video camera will record your movements during
Your doctor may prescribe certain drugs to help manage your
sleep paralysis if narcolepsy is the underlying cause. The most commonly
prescribed medications are stimulants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac). Stimulants help you stay awake. SSRIs help manage symptoms associated with
How Can I Prevent Sleep Paralysis?
You can minimize symptoms or frequency of episodes with a
few simple lifestyle changes:
stress in your life.
regularly, but not close to bedtime.
a regular sleep schedule.
track of medications you take for any conditions.
the side effects and interactions of your different medications, so you can
avoid potential side effects, including sleep paralysis.
If you have a mental disorder
such as anxiety or depression, taking an antidepressant may diminish episodes
of sleep paralysis. Antidepressants can help reduce the amount of dream sleep
you have, which lessens sleep paralysis, according to the American Association of Sleep