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How Do You Break Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that many people experience, yet it remains a mysterious and often terrifying experience. Those who encounter sleep paralysis describe it as an inability to move or speak, often accompanied by vivid hallucinations, while transitioning between stages of sleep. 

The National Sleep Foundation and various sleep medicine experts have extensively researched this topic. This article aims to unravel the mysteries behind sleep paralysis, its causes, and ways to manage and potentially prevent it.

Understanding the Fundamentals of Sleep Paralysis

At the heart of sleep paralysis is the disruption between two stages of sleep. During the rapid eye movement (REM sleep) phase, our brain is highly active. It's the time when dreams occur. Simultaneously, our body undergoes paralysis, preventing us from acting out our dreams. Sleep paralysis happens when this muscle control lingers as we wake up or fall asleep.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Several factors can lead to episodes of sleep paralysis:

  • Sleep Deprivation: A consistent lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can heighten the risk of experiencing sleep paralysis.
  • Narcolepsy: This sleep disorder involves excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with narcolepsy often encounter sleep paralysis.
  • Sleep Schedule: Disrupting your circadian rhythm by frequently changing your sleep patterns or not maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can make you more susceptible.
  • Sleep Disorders: Conditions like sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea, can increase the likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis.
  • Mental Health Conditions: Anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder have all been linked to increased episodes of sleep paralysis.
  • Physical Sleeping Position: Some studies, including the ones by the National Health Service, have suggested that sleeping on your back may lead to a higher chance of sleep paralysis.

How is Sleep Paralysis Experienced?

The most prominent symptom is the inability to move or speak, typically lasting a few seconds to a couple of minutes. However, the experience can be accompanied by:

  • Hallucinations: Some people report vivid hallucinations, often feeling a presence in the room or even perceiving an intruder.
  • Pressure on Chest: A sensation of pressure or tightness on the chest is common.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Some individuals feel as if they can't breathe, further escalating the fear during the episode.

It's worth noting that while these symptoms can be terrifying, sleep paralysis is considered harmless. 

The real concern is the anxiety it can induce, potentially leading to a fear of sleep.

Managing and Preventing Sleep Paralysis

While no surefire method guarantees you won't experience sleep paralysis, several strategies can reduce its occurrence:

  • Good Sleep Hygiene: Adopting habits that promote sleep quality can be pivotal. This includes keeping a consistent sleep schedule, ensuring a comfortable sleeping environment, and managing potential sleep disturbances.

    To see a comprehensive list of good sleep hygiene tips, check out this article-- Good Sleep Hygiene vs Poor Sleep Hygiene

  • Addressing Sleep Disorders: If you have conditions like narcolepsy or sleep apnea, seeking treatment can reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis episodes. This often requires consultation with a sleep specialist.

  • Stress Management: Given the links between anxiety and sleep paralysis, techniques that reduce stress such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or even therapy can be beneficial.
  • Public Health Awareness: Baland Jalal, a renowned researcher in the field, emphasizes the role of awareness in managing sleep paralysis. Knowing that the phenomenon isn't harmful can significantly reduce the fear associated with it.
  • Avoiding Sleeping on Your Back: While not a definitive solution, changing your sleeping position can help some individuals.
  • Seek Medical Advice: In some cases, sleep medicine experts might recommend medications to improve sleep quality or address underlying conditions contributing to sleep paralysis.

The Underlying Connections

Interestingly, sleep paralysis is deeply intertwined with various aspects of our health. The National Institute has linked sleep patterns and sleep deprivation to broader public health concerns, including sexual health and mental well-being. Recognizing the importance of sleep quality and addressing issues like sleep disturbances is not just about preventing sleep paralysis but improving our overall health.


Sleep paralysis, while often a scary experience, is a complex phenomenon rooted in the intricate stages of our sleep cycle. 

The interplay between REM sleep, deep sleep, and our waking moments creates a window where paralysis can linger. Though it might feel threatening, remember that it's a temporary, non-harmful state. If you've experienced recurrent sleep paralysis or if it's impacting your mental health or sleep quality, seeking guidance from a sleep specialist can be beneficial. 

Addressing underlying sleep disorders, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and promoting good sleep hygiene are all steps in the right direction. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of sleep, our understanding of phenomena like sleep paralysis will only deepen, equipping us with better tools to manage and mitigate its effects.

October 06, 2023 by Janelle Viramontes
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