Why Does Sleep Paralysis Occur?

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Why Does Sleep Paralysis Occur?

A man having an OBE (out-of-body experience) due to sleep paralysis. / Photo by: Africa Studio via Shutterstock


Lack of sleep can result in many health problems, such as sleep disorders as well as mental and physical disorders. It can also be the cause of parasomnia or the unwanted events that accompany a person’s sleep. One of these parasomnias is sleep paralysis, which makes a person unable to move whether they have just woken up or are about to sleep.

According to luciddreamsociety.com, it is estimated that between 8% to 50% have experienced sleep paralysis at some point, with the greatest percentage comprising psychiatric patients amounting to 31.9%. In addition, sleepeducation.org says that it is likely to start during the teen years and occurs more often in a person’s 20s to 30s.

Being trapped in sleep paralysis can be overwhelming. However, being able to know its origins, symptoms, and how to prevent it from happening may lessen the possibility of suffering from it.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

According to exploreyourmind.com, Sleep Paralysis is “a passing inability to perform any kind of voluntary movement and takes place during the transitional period between a sleep state and a waking state.” During this state, an individual may be unable to move or speak even though they are conscious. A person having sleep paralysis may also hallucinate and be extremely afraid.

As referred to by msn.com, Michael Breus, the founder of sleepdoctor.com, states that people who are more sleep-deprived have more risks of falling into sleep paralysis. It usually lasts from 15 seconds to a few minutes.


Categories of Sleep Paralysis

According to Medical News Today, there are three categories of this parasomnia.

A person’s sleep paralysis can be classified as:

1. Intruder

The signs of having this are when a person sees a shadow man, hears doorknobs being opened, hears shuffling footsteps or feeling a threatening presence within the room.

2. Incubus

This type involves having difficulty breathing and the feeling of being smothered, sensing pressure on one’s chest, feeling strangled, or sexually assaulted by another being and the feeling that they are about to die.

3. Vestibular motor

In this category, one feels as if they are having an out-of-body experience. They may get the sensations of flying, levitating, spinning, falling or hovering over their own body.


Causes of Sleep Paralysis


The reason for having sleep paralysis as listed by Medical News Today and sleepeducation.org are:

- Interruption of REM sleep

According to Medical News today, when an individual sleep, their sleep state fluctuates between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) which takes about 90 minutes. In the NREM state, the body relaxes and in the REM state, the eyes engage in fast movement and the body also relaxes. It is during REM when a person dreams. Most of the sleeping state is spent in NREM. When the shifting of the body to or from REM is not synchronized with the brain, sleep paralysis manifests. The person's brain is conscious, but their body is still asleep.

- Irregular sleep patterns

A shift in one’s work schedule or experiencing jet lag may cause a person’s sleep pattern to lose its rhythm.

- Other medical conditions

It can also be caused by migraines, depression, anxiety disorders, narcolepsy, hypertension and sleep apnea.

- Genetics

If an individual has relatives who are affected by Sleep Paralysis, they may tend to have a similar problem.


Other elements that make one experience this are:

- Medication

- Substance abuse

- Sleeping on their back

- Not getting enough sleep



A man having a difficulty to breathe. / Photo by: Africa Studio via Shutterstock


For further explanation, exploreyourmind.com expounds on the signs of Sleep Paralysis:

- Difficulty breathing

They may feel that they are suffocating and have to endure shortness of breath as well as some pressure on their chest.

- Visual hallucinations

Those who have experienced this have reported to have seen strangers in their room. They are usually seen by peripheral vision or in shadows.

- Auditory hallucinations

The person starts to hear things like mechanical, elementary and other strange intense sounds. These can include screaming, whining, shattering of glass, ringing of the phone and more similar sounds.

- The sensation of another presence

They may get the feeling that another entity is in the house. There will be sensations of someone is staring at them, another person entering their home or trying to approach their bed. WebMD also adds that they may feel headaches, muscle pains, and paranoia.


How to Stop Sleep Paralysis

To be able to prevent sleep paralysis, WebMD, msn.co, and luciddreamsociety.com advise:

- Address any anxiety or stress problems

If this is caused by anxiety or being stressed, it is best to seek treatment that would help cure them. In doing so, it might eliminate the chances of suffering from sleep paralysis.

- Do not panic

The person should remind themselves that it is just a dream. Panicking could make the paralysis worse.

- Have a person touch them or try to move them to wake them up

If the person has someone else sleeping next to them, they may request that person to try to move them so they can break free from the paralyzed-like state.


Lastly, WebMD also suggests that they should try reducing the  intake of stimulants, stress management, not sleeping on their back, practicing meditation or prayer, establishing good sleep habits and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.



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