What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis can be a terrifying experience, waking up in the middle of the night in your dark bedroom unable to move as ominous figures approach your frozen body. Some have reported being choked and even restrained in their sleep. Sleep paralysis makes you feel wide awake but your body is fast asleep. It can leave you traumatized and the interruption to your sleep cycle can severely impact your day.

8% of the general population will experience at least one episode of sleep paralysis   

The boundary between alertness and depts of sleep is a thin veil and the frightening disruption of sleep paralysis happens to many people. A 2011 sleep paralysis review revealed that almost 8% of the general population will experience at least one episode with students and psychiatric patients being most affected. Particularly those who suffer from anxiety disorders or narcolepsy. 

Sleep paralysis hallucinations occur either during sleep (hypnopompic) or when falling asleep (hypnagogic). During sleep, the body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep and it is at the end of the REM stage when the frightening episode of sleep paralysis takes hold.   

Who can experience sleep paralysis?  

This condition can affect anyone and is usually first noticed in the teenage years. It can be hereditary but those who suffer existing conditions such as bipolar disorder, narcolepsy, or anxiety can be at greater risk. A lack of sleep, substance abuse, or certain medications can also trigger a sleep paralysis event.   

Can sleep paralysis be treated?  

Sleep paralysis is not a serious medical condition with episodes generally sporadic. However, if experiencing a severe bout of sleep paralysis where your daily life is affected by lack of sleep, you can be referred to a sleep specialist for an evaluation. The first step in treating sleep paralysis is to tackle any stressful situations in your life. Depression and anxiety can be triggers of sleep paralysis so speak to your doctor if symptoms are unbearable. Often just implementing sleep hygiene practices can benefit symptoms greatly. Ensure a full 8 hours of sleep per night and indulge in some meditation and exercise.  

Tackle stress to tackle sleep paralysis 

Create a relaxing sleep space with comfy blankets, dim lighting, and a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow. Wind down before sleep by limiting screen time and caffeine. There’s nothing at all to fear from sleep paralysis. If your waking hours are impacted by lack of sleep, a consistent and healthy bedtime routine along with a holistic approach to managing stress can conquer sleep paralysis and optimize health.