Sleep Paralysis

Hsleeping -468235702ave you ever woken up and found that you were unable to move or speak?  Believe it or not, over the centuries some have attributed this symptom to evil or supernatural presences especially when accompanied by hallucinations or a chest-crushing sensation.  However, there is a medical explanation and name for this phenomenon. This frightening but perfectly natural occurrence is called sleep paralysis. It is estimated that up four out of every ten people have experienced symptoms associated with the disorder. Studies suggest that as many as fifty percent will experience sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime.

Sleep paralysis is a term used to describe a variety of symptoms which occur when your body is not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. It has been found that sleep paralysis most often happens during the REM (rapid eye movement), the phase where your brain is active and vivid dreams occur but your muscles are relaxed or turned off.  The state of paralysis happens when a person wakes up before REM is completed. The brain is still actively dreaming but as a response to keep the body from acting out dreams and harming ourselves or others; our voluntary muscles become paralyzed.

According to, “Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it’s called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it happens as you are waking up, it’s called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis.”

Symptoms of sleep paralysis may differ from person to person and may include:

  • The inability to move or speak immediately after waking up.
  • Hallucinations- which occur because the brain is still in a state of dreaming.
  • Chest pressure- which can occur as a result of panicking

Causes of sleep paralysis can be attributed to:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Sleep position- It is believed that people who sleep on their backs are more inclined to have symptoms
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Use of certain medication
  • Narcolepsy
  • Stress
  • Mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder

Although sleep paralysis is a relatively harmless health condition it is recommended that you consult your physician or a sleep specialist if symptoms are prevalent and disrupting daily activities or the ability to function normally. To schedule an appointment with the Sleep Center at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, please call 718-206-5916.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.