What is sleep paralysis and who is at risk?

Sleep paralysis sounds like stuff straight out of a horror movie. It is a terrifying condition which includes a number of complications. Also referred to as parasomnia, more than 8 percent of people suffer from this condition occasionally (even if it is not chronic). Unless you suffer from it chronically, there is not enough reason to worry. However, if it is chronic, consider taking help from sleep disorder clinics near your area.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis refers to a condition in which the body stays paralyzed after waking up and a person is unable to move. This is referred to as the postdormital form. In case it occurs while you are falling asleep, it is referred to as the preorbital form.

While you are sleeping, your body is sent into a state of relaxation that doctors refer to as atonia. During sleep paralysis, this condition is enacted while the mind is awake. In other words, the body is still sleeping. Most common cases of sleep paralysis are isolated. This means that there are no signs of narcolepsy, which is harder to control.

A sleep paralysis experience can be very terrifying sometimes, as it renders the entire body paralyzed. At the same time, the condition may also be accompanied by alien voices and hallucinations that can further worsen the experience.

A single sleep paralysis episode may only last for a few seconds or continue for several minutes for calming down.

Who is at the risk of sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis can affect anyone at any age. Moreover, there are no solid cures for this condition. However, there are a number of conditions and certain common behaviors that lead to this condition. For instance, people who have other sleep disorders that cause frequent waking such narcolepsy and insomnia are at a greater risk of this condition. Moreover, shift workers also suffer from sleep paralysis very frequently due to an irregular sleeping pattern. However, these are not the only risk factors.

Other risk factors include:


According to a number of studies, people who suffer from PTSD are more likely to suffer from sleep paralysis and other sleep disorders. This is because the condition leads to higher physiological arousal, which results in sleep paralysis.

Depression and anxiety

More than about 20% of the people who suffer from anxiety disorders also get frequent sleep paralysis episodes. This is primarily because sleep disturbances have a link with anxiousness.

Sleep disruption

Disruption of the sleep cycle can also sometimes cause sleep paralysis. This is based on a study which was conducted in 2002. In this study, patients were awoken during their REM sleep purposely.

The restless leg syndrome

Spasms in the leg due to the restless leg syndrome and different types of cramps can disrupt the sleep very frequently. As a result of this, the sleep cycle gets thrown off. Hence, a person wakes up very frequently and enters into REM sleep much faster. Both of these have a link with sleep paralysis.

Sleeping position

According to a number of studies, if you sleep on your back, the risk of sleep paralysis increases greatly. This also includes waking up due to snoring and sleep apnea. Hence, sleeping positions play a big role in sleep paralysis episodes. However, those who are suffering from sleep paralysis due to other conditions tend to get episodes even when they are sleeping on their sides. Hence, the sleeping position is certainly a contributing factor but not the ‘only’ one!


A total lack of sleep can result in blackouts that go straight into the REM sleep. This is similar to the states in narcolepsy. Then, wakeful dreaming and paralysis occur. In case you suspect that your sleep paralysis episodes are due to insomnia, see an insomnia doctor specialist and get treatment for your condition.



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