Sleep paralysis

Dr. Ayush PandeyMBBS,PG Diploma

October 03, 2020

October 03, 2020

Sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis

More often than not, we think of being awake and asleep as two distinct states. Sleep paralysis challenges these boundaries.

Sleep paralysis is a common sleep disorder or parasomnia in which one is unable to move—usually just before waking up or while falling asleep—though they are aware that they are in bed. Sleep paralysis often involves a distressing episode of hallucination and suffocation lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Four out of 10 people have sleep paralysis. Though it is more common in people with sleep apnea (a sleep disorder in which the person periodically stops breathing for a few seconds during sleep) or narcolepsy (a sleep disorder in which patients feel very sleepy during the day), anyone can have sleep paralysis.

Continue reading to find out more about the symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of sleep paralysis.

Symptoms of sleep paralysis

People who experience sleep paralysis often have their first episode during their teen years, typically between 14 years and 17 years of age. Having said that, sleep paralysis can affect people of all age groups.

The most prominent symptom of sleep paralysis is not being able to move or speak for some time during sleep or waking from sleep. Apart from this, people with sleep paralysis may have the following symptoms:

Risk factors and causes of sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is basically a loss of muscle function. The exact cause remains unknown. However, studies have shown that multiple factors may be responsible for sleep paralysis. These are:

Sleep paralysis diagnosis

Your general physician will start by asking you questions about your medical history and sleeping patterns. Though there aren’t any medical tests for the diagnosis of this condition, the doctor may have you do an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram which records various things while you sleep including brain waves, heartbeat as well as breathing.

Sleep paralysis treatment

Sleep paralysis may not require treatment; in some cases, following a healthy night-time routine, getting adequate sleep, etc., could resolve the issue. (Read more: Sleep and mental health)

If you are concerned about sleep paralysis or are unable to sleep properly, visit a doctor to check for underlying conditions like narcolepsy that may be causing the problem.

A treatment plan is devised keeping in mind the cause of sleep paralysis. This is as follows:

  • Treatment of underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or bipolar disorder by seeking psychiatric help. 
  • Low doses of antidepressants to reduce or control REM sleep and hence deal with sleep paralysis. REM is rapid eye movement—a sleep stage when the body is inactive and the brain is active. This stage is associated with vivid dreams.
  • If you have recently changed your medication and are noticing symptoms of sleep paralysis, changing the medication should be considered. 
  • In case the underlying cause is narcolepsy, the doctors will prescribe drugs for it. The most common medication prescribed in this case is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), that manage the symptoms of narcolepsy. Stimulants may also be given to help the person stay awake during the day.

Sleep paralysis prevention

Even though the condition is not harmful, sleep paralysis can be frightening and may result in the lack of a good night’s sleep. You can take the following steps to prevent it:

  • Having a fixed sleeping schedule, that is, going to bed at the same time every day
  • Getting at least six to eight hours of sleep per night
  • Practising breathing exercises or yoga 
  • Reducing stress levels 
  • Seeking therapy and/or trauma counselling
  • Avoiding smoking or drinking a few hours before going to sleep (Read more: How to quit smoking)
  • Trying a different position if you sleep on your back

When to see a doctor for sleep paralysis

You should consider making an appointment with a general practitioner if:

  • There you feel extremely tired
  • You get sudden attacks of sleep during the day
  • You feel extremely scared or anxious at the thought of going to sleep

Doctors for Sleep paralysis

Dr. Neha Baig Dr. Neha Baig Dermatology
3 Years of Experience
Dr. Avinash Jhariya Dr. Avinash Jhariya Dermatology
5 Years of Experience
Dr. R.K . Tripathi Dr. R.K . Tripathi Dermatology
12 Years of Experience
Dr. Deepak Kumar Yadav Dr. Deepak Kumar Yadav Dermatology
2 Years of Experience
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