Sleep Paralysis

Last Updated February 9, 2024

kaneesha allen Fact checked by Kaneesha Allen

Have you ever noticed how in ghost movies, the protagonists awaken in the middle of the night and cannot move in the presence of a demon who later attacks them? Is that sleep paralysis?

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We're here to inform you that sleep paralysis has nothing to do with vampires, demons, or maybe ghosts. Instead, the blog will show you the age-old conversations from the 16th century about sleep paralysis, what it is, its symptoms, and preventions.

many report to see demons during their episodes of sleep paralysis.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a distinct neurological phenomenon in which you may experience a brief inability to move limbs or speak when falling asleep or waking up. It takes a terrifying turn because the patient is fully conscious of their situation and recalls everything that happened.

If you've ever been in this situation, you know how terrifying it is to be unable to move. You'll feel anxious and afraid because you may experience hallucinations and be unable to control the body with which you work day and night.

Sleep paralysis has significant cultural significance throughout the planet, with famous stories from Cambodia, Egypt, Italy, Newfoundland, Nigeria, and even the United States. So what's the one thing all these countries have in common? Demons!

Nightmare Spirit Under Your Bed

In 1977, over 100 seemingly healthy people from various South East Asian populations were discovered dead in their sleep under mysterious circumstances. The story of Lilith emerges as an unusual occurrence and takes on the meaning of bizarre stories.

Lilith is a nightmare/succubus, whose first reference was found within the Sumerian King List of 2400 BC. A she-demon, she bore children from her nocturnal unions with men. In other derivations, she was Adam's first wife who, instead of 'obeying,' became a demon that preyed on women during childbirth.

The first clinical description of sleep paralysis appeared in a Dutch physician's case history in 1664, under the title 'Incubus or the Night-Mare.' It was quoted - the night time, when she was composing her self to sleep, sometimes she believed the devil lay upon her and held her down, sometimes that she was choked by a great dog or thief lying upon her breast, so that she could hardly speak or breath, and when she endeavored to throw off the burthen, she was not able to stir her members. And while she was in that strife, sometimes with great difficulty she awoke of her self , sometimes her husband hearing her make a doleful in articular voice ...

The Nightmare, a 1781 painting by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, was the foremost famous depiction of the phenomenon.

Over 300 years later, a 1991 article investigated the fashionable variant of the nightmare, Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS).

Medical perspective of sleep paralysis

In 1928, the term 'sleep paralysis' was first utilized in the medical literature. For centuries, cultures all over the world who have experienced sleep paralysis blame these on black magic, mythical monsters, or paranormal activity. Scientists have since dismissed such explanations about sleep paralysis, but cultural beliefs persist.

What causes sleep paralysis episodes?

According to researchers, sleep paralysis occurs as a fundamental brain glitch in the interaction between drowsiness and rapid eye movements (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, you will have intense, almost lifelike dreams, even in the form of hallucinations. These hallucinations regularly involve seeing and sensing ghostly intruders in one's bedroom and are interpreted differently worldwide.

To prevent you from responding to these realistic dreams and injuring yourself, your brain devised an adequate solution by temporarily paralyzing your entire body. Indeed, your brain features a "flip" (a handful of neurochemicals) that tilts you between sleep and wakefulness.

However, sometimes the "flip" fails, and your central nervous system wakes up. As a result, your body remains under the spell of REM paralysis, trapping you in the stage between wakefulness and REM sleep. The REM dreams spread like waking consciousness during sleep paralysis; it probably feels like a dream coming to life.  These can occur as different types of sleep paralysis, recurrent isolated sleep paralysis, or recurrent sleep paralysis.

What are the types of sleep paralysis?

Three terms are commonly used in the medical literature to classify cases of sleep paralysis.

1. Isolated sleep paralysis

Isolated sleep paralysis is a type of paralysis where the episodes are unrelated to an underlying diagnosis of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

2. Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis

Multiple episodes of recurring sleep paralysis occur over time. In many instances, such two key characteristics are combined to explain a medical condition called recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP), which involves ongoing sleep paralysis in somebody who doesn't have narcolepsy.

3. Recurrent sleep paralysis

Though similar to RISP, if you are experiencing sleep paralysis regularly, then it is recurrent sleep paralysis. It is also defined by the time it occurs. If it happens as you're falling asleep, it's referred to as hypnagogic or pre-dormital sleep paralysis. It's known as hypnopompic or post-dormital sleep paralysis if it occurs when you are waking up.

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Causes of sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Insomnia and sleep deprivation characterized by disrupted sleeping patterns, such as those caused by shift work or jet lag. 
  • Narcolepsy - A long-term condition where a person falls asleep unexpectedly. Narcolepsy manifests as recurrent sleep paralysis.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - A condition marked by an inability to recover after going through or seeing a terrifying event.
  • General anxiety disorder - A long-term disorder that makes you anxious about a variety of circumstances and problems.
  • Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic or fear attacks.

Other factors that may contribute to sleep paralysis include:

  1. Mental illnesses such as stress or bipolar disorder
  2. Leg cramps at night
  3. The use of certain medications, such as those used to treat ADHD
  4. Substance abuse
  5. A history of sleep paralysis in the family

Though sleep paralysis is thought to be a regular occurrence in REM sleep, it is considered to be a part of sleep disorders when it occurs outside of REM sleep.

Sleep disorders can affect anyone at any point in time. It can happen to people who already have narcolepsy, cataplexy, and hypnagogic hallucinations. When it appears in the absence of narcolepsy, it is referred to as Isolated Sleep Paralysis. Sleep paralysis can last anywhere from seconds to minutes.

implement healthy lifestyle that can help you treat sleep paralysis

Risk factors of sleep paralysis

The abnormal behaviors during sleep paralysis disrupt sleep or cause injury; these are frequently manifestations of action-packed or violent dreams. Such a disorder is called REM Sleep Behavior disorder. When the body maintains a relatively increased muscular tonus during REM sleep, the sleeper can move and act out their dreams.

If you do not ensure the safety of your sleeping environment, you risk injuring yourself or your partner through twitching, utterances, flailing, and kicking. Some people even sit up and get out of bed. At the end of such an episode, the person may wake up alerted; they may be able to provide a coherent dream story.

How common is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis can affect men and women of any age group. The average age when it first occurs is 14 to 17 years. It is a fairly common sleep problem. The percentage of people experiencing this varies widely, from 5% to 40%.

More about sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis, which has been estimated to affect as little as 1.7% to as much as 40% of the general population, with the majority of incidents involving students, generally peaks by age 30 and appears to be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, narcolepsy, and panic attacks. In one study, an increased rate (65%), intensity, and duration of sleep paralysis were observed in a group of Cambodian refugees suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

When should I see a healthcare provider?

If you notice the following symptoms during a sleep paralysis episode, consult your doctor.

  • You are concerned about your symptoms
  • Extremely tired during the day
  • Inability to move the body parts
  • Being consciously awake
  • Unable to speak during the episode
  • Having hallucinations and sensations that cause fear
  • Feeling pressure on the chest
  • Having difficulty breathing
  • Sweating

Is it possible to wake up from sleep paralysis?

The ability to wake up during episodes of sleep paralysis is not entirely possible, but one might be able to influence sleep quality and increase awareness.

1. Focus on body movements and relax

Studies have found that some people can move certain parts of their bodies, most notably their fingers and feet. Simply try to concentrate on moving these parts while breathing slowly.

2. Focus on eye movement

Your ability to open your eyes and look around is generally not hindered by sleep paralysis. Being aware of your surroundings can be comforting, hence treating the symptoms.

a cozy bed and strict sleep routine can help you recover from the horrors of sleep paralysis

How do you prevent sleep paralysis?

Sleep is an activity generated in specific brain regions. These sites have been identified through studies involving electrical stimulation, damage to particular brain regions, or other techniques that identify sleep-related areas. Sleep patterns can drastically affect sleep paralysis; keeping a regularly healthy sleep pattern and getting enough sleep can significantly reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis episodes.

Age has a more significant impact on sleep patterns than any other natural factor. Newborns sleep for 12 to 16 hours per day on average. Total sleep time for a three to five-year-old child averages 10 to 13 hours, then drops to 7 to 8 hours per night by adulthood.

Your sleeping patterns significantly affect your REM cycle. Sleep patterns influence a person's life. For some, exercise or being active plays an important role in sleep hygiene. You can refer to our guide on sleep and exercise to learn more about it.

To diagnose sleep paralysis, no medical tests or specific sleep medicine exist. Your medical history as well as your sleep habits will be questioned by your doctor. The severity of sleep paralysis varies from person to person; therefore, consult a specialist to find the best solution for you.

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14 Steps to fall asleep faster at night

The primary therapy is improving sleep hygiene. Sleep paralysis can get dangerous. To stop sleep paralysis, people adopt these most common types of practices. You can try these methods to avoid harming yourself if you experience this disorder.

  1. You should not take a nap during the day. If you need to sleep during the day, take short naps of 10-15 minutes. Otherwise, refrain from doing so.
  2. Create a bedtime routine. Before crashing to bed, ensure the bedroom environment is conducive to sleep, such as quiet, a comfortable temperature, and a comfortable pillow and mattress. 
  3. Caffeine-containing products should not be consumed before 10:00 p.m.
  4. Smoking is not permitted.
  5. If alcohol is a habit, it should be avoided or consumed in moderation.
  6. Consume foods and beverages in moderation for at least three hours before retiring to bed.
  7. You should exercise regularly, at least four to six hours before bedtime. In some exceptional situations, like a person having anxiety, light exercise before going to bed may help them relax.
  8. Feel the sun, be exposed to sunlight for at least half an hour in the morning, and avoid bright lights in the evenings.
  9. Don't become engrossed in electronics or television. Avoid using computers and watching television in the hours before going to bed. It is said that bright lights inhibit melatonin production.
  10. Practice stress management techniques.
  11. A journal will help you keep track of problems and plans. However, it should not be kept in mind to prevent sleep. Avoid reading or watching the news about upsetting events right before going to bed.
  12. Take a lukewarm bath two hours before bedtime and drink a warm glass of milk.

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Essentially, the methods listed above could assist you in managing any psychosomatic disorder, such as depression or anxiety, if you have one. Also, if you are a substance abuser, you should limit your use of them. These will aid in instilling peace of mind through regular meditation or prayer.

Sleep paralysis is nothing to be concerned about; simply breathe and relax if you experience it, and to avoid it, please follow the steps outlined above. However, if it precedes your hand and begins to bother you and disrupt your daily work, please consult a doctor.

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Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.