What Is Sleep Paralysis? Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, And More

World Sleep Day is commemorated annually before the Spring Vernal Equinox and this year it is observed on 17th March. Sleep paralysis is a sleeping disorder that affects approximately 7.6% of the general population during their lifetime. Let's dig in deeper into this issue and find out What sleep paralysis is, its symptoms, causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and more
What Is Sleep Paralysis? Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, And More
What Is Sleep Paralysis? Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, And More

World Sleep Day is commemorated annually before the Spring Vernal Equinox and this year it is observed on 17th March. 

The theme for World Sleep Day 2023 is "Sleep is essential for health" which brings us to the unfortunate fact that in today's hustle culture, 40℅ people with insomnia are believed also to be suffering from a mental disorder. 

Stats show that 75℅ of adults with depression have insomnia. Studies have shown that nearly 9℅ of the population in India have insomnia and 30℅ suffer from it occasionally.

Another common disorder is Sleep paralysis which affects approximately 7.6% of the general population during their lifetime. It is a  phenomenon caused due to temporary desynchrony in the architecture of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

Many people are not aware of this phenomenon, and gaining information will lead to future precautions and less havoc if it happens. Let's dig in deeper on this issue when World Sleep Day has given us this platform to discuss and spread awareness on various matters the general populations face in regard to sleep.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

When you are falling asleep or waking up, your brain is sending you signals that relax muscles in your arms and legs. Subsequently, muscle atonia enables you to remain still during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, but when sleep paralysis occurs you regain awareness but can’t move.

Sleep Paralysis: What happens when you're in it? 

  • When a sleep paralysis episode occurs, you're aware of your surroundings but cannot move or speak which can be extremely scary for some people.
  • You can still move your eyes and breathe in a state of sleep paralysis.
  • Hallucinations may also occur where you can hear or see things that aren’t there, making episodes even more frightening.
  • Sleep paralysis episodes last anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes.

Sleep Paralysis: Who can get it?

  • People of all ages can face rare or isolated sleep paralysis.
  • Sleep paralysis is more likely to happen in the setting of sleep deprivation in association with or with a changing sleep schedule.
  •  College students or shift workers face this more often as they don't have an efficient sleeping schedule. 
  • Recurrent sleep paralysis is a symptom of narcolepsy, a disorder of unstable sleep-wake boundaries.

Sleep Paralysis: Causes

  •  Sleep paralysis happens during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage when you’re likely to have dreams.
  • Your brain prevents muscles in your limbs from moving to protect you from acting dreams out and hurting yourself. 
  • You can face Sleep paralysis when you regain awareness going into or coming out of REM. 
  • As narcolepsy is distinguished by erratic wakefulness and precarious sleep, people with narcolepsy have frequent night awakenings that can be associated with sleep paralysis.

The condition has many causes, including:

  • Narcolepsy.
  • Shift work.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep Paralysis: Symptoms 

The symptoms include:

  • Paralysis in your limbs.
  • Inability to speak.
  • Sense of suffocation
  • Hallucinations.
  • Fear.
  • Panic.
  • Helplessness.
  • Tightening around your throat.
  • Daytime sleepiness may be a sign of narcolepsy.

Sleep Paralysis: Diagnosis And Tests

How is sleep paralysis diagnosed?

Healthcare providers confirm or rule out sleep paralysis after an evaluation. They may ask you about the following:

  • You can face symptoms, such as how often you experience sleep paralysis, what it feels like, and when it started.
  • Your sleep, such as how many hours you sleep at night and whether you feel tired during the day.
  • Your Medical history, including medications you are taking and whether you smoke, use alcohol, or illegal drugs.
  • Your Mental health disorders, which may include anxiety, post-traumatic stress or depression.
  • Your Family history of sleep paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis: Management And Treatment

Though there are no proven therapies that can stop a sleep paralysis episode, most people who experience it routinely report focusing on making small body movements. You can do small practices such as moving one finger, then another which helps recover more quickly. Your healthcare provider can recommend treatments that lower the risk of future episodes. It may also help to consolidate your sleep, try to prevent sleep deprivation, and avoid the use of alcohol and recreational drugs.

Sleep Paralysis: Prevention

Though there isn't much you can do to prevent sleep paralysis from happening you can take some steps to lower your risk.

You can avoid sleep paralysis by improving the quality of your sleep. You can do this by:

  • Set a sleep schedule with specific times for going to bed and waking up.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment that’s dark and quiet.
  • Put phones, tablets, e-readers, and computers away in advance of bedtime.
  • Relax before bed by taking a bath, reading, or listening to soothing music.

Bottom line 

It’s natural to feel tired, emotional, and scared after recovering from sleep paralysis, and with good reason. Sleep paralysis is a frightening experience. Be kind to yourself, including getting extra rest if you need it. Talk to a loved one for comfort or see your healthcare provider if you have concerns.


Sleep paralysis is uncommon. But many people feel scared after an episode. The experience may have felt so strange that you may wonder whether anyone will believe what happened.

Don’t let these feelings hold you back from getting medical attention and the support you need. A healthcare provider can pinpoint the causes, provide treatments or offer self-care recommendations to lower your risk of future episodes.


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