• Sleep paralysis occurs when your brain is awake, but your body is still in a deeply relaxed state, causing one to feel briefly paralyzed.
  • You typically only experience sleep paralysis for a few seconds or minutes; though it can be scary, this condition isn’t generally harmful or dangerous.
  • While scientists aren’t certain how many people experience sleep paralysis, they say that everyone will experience it at least once in their lifetime.
  • Sleep paralysis can be brought on by narcolepsy and sleep deprivation, but it is also normal to happen to healthy individuals who practice good sleep hygiene.
  • This condition doesn’t typically require treatment; however, if it becomes a common experience, this could signify a sleep disorder and should be evaluated by a professional.

There are only a few things that truly and wholly fascinate me outside of my normal realm (that is writing, reading, and exercising). This small list includes astronomy, psychology, and cooking… but at the top of that list is sleep! Sleep is perplexing—we essentially shut off our brains and our bodies for a large part of the day to rest up and refuel. And if that weren’t fascinating enough, we do some strange things in our sleep: we dream, we grind and clench our teeth, we sleep-talk and sleepwalk, and—most fascinating of all, in my humble opinion—we experience sleep paralysis.

What exactly is sleep paralysis? I’m not going to get into all of the details just yet, but sleep paralysis is essentially the feeling of being awake but unable to move. I have personal experience with sleep paralysis—especially when I’m awaking from a dream—which probably piques my interest in the subject. However, I think this is a topic that everyone can find fascinating and benefit from knowing more about. That’s why I’ve called upon Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD of Ambrosia Treatment Center to delve into the matter by answering a few basic questions about the sleep disorder:

Q: What is sleep paralysis?

A: “Sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs just before falling asleep or waking up. During these transition periods, the brain is awake, but the body is still in the relaxed sleep state, resulting in temporary paralysis. Often, this is accompanied by hallucinations where people see, hear, feel, or experience sensations that aren’t there.

Sleep paralysis is temporary and only lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. While it may be frightening while it’s happening, sleep paralysis is generally not harmful or a sign of a bigger problem.”

Q: Who suffers from it?

A: “Estimates for how many people suffer from sleep paralysis range from 5% to 40%. It also affects men and women equally. It’s quite common for people to experience sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime, but only a small percentage of people have recurring episodes.”

Q: What causes sleep paralysis?

A: “Sleep paralysis can be triggered by narcolepsy or sleep deprivation, but it can also happen to healthy individuals. Sleep experts theorize that it happens when REM (rapid eye movement) sleep has been interrupted. Inconsistent sleeping patterns, stress and substance abuse can also contribute to someone experiencing sleep paralysis.”

Q: How should people address this sleep disturbance?

A: “Someone who experiences sporadic sleep paralysis usually doesn’t require treatment. But, if sleep paralysis is reoccurring, it might be the sign of a sleep disorder. Sleep specialists can help you by gathering information from you on your family and personal medical history, and performing a clinical assessment. Lab tests or sleep studies may also be needed to make a diagnosis.”

Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis? Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of what’s happening to your brain and your body when you enter this state. Additionally, I hope that this has piqued your interest (even just a little) in sleep and all of the crazy things that can happen while you rest.