What is sleep palsy: causes, symptoms, treatment

Scientific background

Sleepy stupor is of two types:

  1. Hypnagogic – when falling asleep.
  2. Hypnopompic – immediately after waking up.

From a medical point of view, the rationale is this: at the time of the fast sleep phase, all the body’s motor function is turned off, only vital organs “work”. This is necessary for a safe, relaxing and body. Inclusion occurs during the transition to the stage of slow sleep or upon awakening. Sometimes brain mediators responsible for these processes fail, causing the motility to either turn on late or turn off earlier. This causes sleep paralysis.

Is there a connection with genetics?

To establish a predisposition to the state of carotid paralysis at the level of genetics, scientists conducted studies with identical twins. It is these twins that “divide” almost 100% of the genes with each other (frantically – only 50%).

The experiment showed that the relationship at the genetic level actually exists. A predisposition to sleep stupor occurs in those people who possess a mutation of a particular gene responsible for the cyclical nature of sleep. Official confirmation of the relationship has not yet been presented, and geneticists have a lot of work to be done in this direction.

When a state of immobility occurs

There are three stages of sleep:

  1. Fast phase
  2. Slow phase.
  3. Awakening.

What is sleep palsy: causes, symptoms, treatment

In the fast phase, the brain exhibits high activity, as do the heart muscle, the respiratory system and the organs of vision. You can watch how the of a sleeping person move under closed eyelids. This means that at this moment he sees vivid dreams. All other muscles of the body during this phase are completely relaxed. If a person wakes up at this moment, with the correct functioning of the brain, all the motor mechanisms of the body start up at once, the muscles come to tone.

However, if there are sleep disorders, malfunctions at the genetic level, paralysis does not pass after awakening. In most cases, a person has enough minutes to recover, but during this short period you can experience real horror and fear.

Sleep paralysis is a unique phenomenon of consciousness. Somnologists conducted tests and found that brain activity in all participants in the experiment who experienced an anomaly, falls into a phase of rapid sleep, moreover, the results of the recordings are identical.

Most often, the stupor phenomenon occurs at the time of awakening. It is established that if a person wakes up in a phase of fast sleep or immediately after it, a stupor occurs. The brain still “sees” colorful dreams, while the body continues to “sleep” and maintains stillness. From here and effect – to the person the mystical phenomena, otherworldly shadows appear, there is a feeling of horror and detachment of soul from a body. In the normal state, the awakening occurs at the end of the slow sleep phase, after a complete rest of the body, prepared for wakefulness.

Sleep paralysis – causes

Sleep paralysis is sometimes one of the symptoms of a neurological pathology:

  • narcolepsy (spontaneous, unintentionally falling asleep);
  • somnambulism (walking during sleep);
  • bipolar disorder (psychosis in which manic activity alternates with deep depression).

But most often the phenomenon is spontaneous and occurs by itself due to short-term disturbances of the , at which the stages of the activation of consciousness after sleep and the work of the muscular system do not agree with each other.

What causes sleep paralysis? There are several provoking factors:

  • violation of the daily regimen (frequent sleep deprivation, short-term, but frequent sleep during the daily activity);
  • constant sleeplessness at night;
  • acute and chronic ;
  • long-term use of pills that affect the nervous system (antidepressants);
  • chronic habits (nicotine addiction, alcoholism, drug addiction, substance abuse);
  • restless legs syndrome;
  • the habit of sleeping on your back (it is proved that when you sleep on your side, sleepy paralysis occurs less often);
  • hereditary factors.

Scientists have been studying this phenomenon for a long time and have done quite a bit of research. The result is staggering: 40 people out of 100 at least once experienced paralysis after sleep.

Both men and women of all ages are predisposed to the syndrome, but more often it is observed in the age group from 13 to 25 years.

Point of view of psychology

Nightmares from sleeping paralysis, according to psychiatrists, are not dangerous for the psyche of a healthy person. But if a person is emotionally unstable (this is especially true for women who are more susceptible to everything), there may be problems associated with the fear of death, the feeling of falling into a coma.

Read also … How to enter the state of sleep paralysis and get out of the stupor

This is due to the fact that the hallucinations associated with the phenomenon are very realistic, and the helplessness of the paralyzed body is frightening. Sleep paralysis is quite often accompanied by auditory hallucinations, when the sounds of the external world are distorted, amplified, supplemented by echoes of the dream that has not yet passed.

Signs and symptoms

Different types of this anomaly have their own symptoms.

Hypnagogic stupor (when falling asleep):

  • an unexpected abrupt awakening with almost complete transition to sleep, when it seems to a person that he has fallen or someone has pushed him;
  • feeling of stupor in the body due to fright;
  • an oppressive sensation, as if, together with immersion in drowsiness, the end of life is approaching, death may occur, or a feeling of falling into darkness appears;
  • abrupt or complete understanding of what is happening around without being able to influence it;
  • the feeling of absolute awareness of your own body (when you feel your fingers, hair, bones, something that in ordinary life a person does not pay attention and takes for granted);
  • the realization that you can move your hand or roll over on your stomach, but the transition from thought to action is infinitely long;
  • the appearance of hallucinations of hearing – tinnitus increases, turns into a jingle and a kind of monotonous squeak.

Hypopompic stupor (after waking up):

  • complete immobility of the limbs, the inability to open your mouth, utter words or shout;
  • the feeling of heaviness in the body, as if someone, leaning over with his whole body, does not give an opportunity to move;
  • the feeling of the presence of otherworldly mystical creatures, the appearance of which depends on the world perception of a person, his cultural and religious traditions (devils, dead, vampires – any subconscious fears);
  • the feeling of animal horror at the level of primitive instincts (fear of death, suffocation, full of helplessness);
  • dreams in reality – conscious hallucinations, in which a person sees shadows, ghosts, silhouettes of people where they should not be;
  • sound hallucinations, accompanied by audible voices, footsteps, squeaks, knocks;
  • disorientation in the outside world (a person does not understand where he is);
  • twitching nerve endings in the fingers, limbs;
  • a false sense of movement (the person imagines that he turned on his back, although he did not actually move).

Any of these symptoms cause a person to wake up. Due to a sudden emotional jump, a person may pull his hand or moan softly. It helps to finally get out of sleep paralysis and wake up.

For both types of stupor, there are several common symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing, feeling of suffocation, lack of oxygen; it seems to a person that he forgot how to breathe;
  • a false feeling as if the heart had stopped; after a heartbeat, it quickens;
  • sometimes rises, cold sweats come out, an internal tremor appears, accompanied by a feeling of anxiety.

Symptoms are short-term and gradually recede after 1-2 minutes, but it feels like an eternity.


Sleep paralysis does not apply to medical diagnoses, in the classification of sleep disorders it is positioned as a type of parasomnia.

If the paralysis syndrome after sleep arose only once, there is no need to seek medical help. With frequent episodes, medical intervention is necessary. The doctor will make anamnesis based on the events and factors described by the person. Then, if necessary, appoint a special examination, which will help to identify the causes of frequent sleep paralysis.

The phenomenon may be a symptom of mental disorder. Deeper diagnosis is needed if:

  • stupor is multiple and regular, and especially if it occurs every night or several times during the night;
  • symptoms of sleep paralysis pronounced, with a clear impact on the psyche and nervous system;
  • there is a confusion factor, a constant feeling of fear;
  • associated sleep disturbances (nightmares, walking in a dream, daytime sleep, but insomnia at night) occur;
  • sleepy paralysis is accompanied by other symptoms of mental disorders: panic attacks in the daytime, unreasonable aggression, increased suspiciousness.

To make a correct diagnosis, psychiatrists practice the following methods:

  • The patient must constantly keep a diary in which he records every episode of sleep paralysis. Records should be very detailed, describing all the sensations and experiences. Also, the doctor himself makes notes about the presence of other diseases of the nervous system and psyche, which act as risk factors. The diary should be kept from 4 to 6 weeks, if necessary, and a longer period.
  • Polysomnography – recording a patient’s sleep using a computer program connected to special equipment. If sleep paralysis is not in a particular case a pathology of the patient’s psyche, the polysomnography will show the rate of sleep.

After the examination, when establishing the pronounced signs of parasomnias disturbing the patient, he is sent to a sleep specialist, a specialist in the field of behavioral disorder.


Doctors say that sleeping paralysis does not need special treatment and it is impossible to solve the problem only by taking sedative pills. However, specific prophylaxis is required under other aggravating circumstances – neurosis, stress, disturbed sleep patterns during depression, drug addiction, alcohol abuse. All of these factors have a causal relationship, and paralysis will bother the person until he eliminates them.

Eliminating the associated factors, it is possible to achieve normalization of sleep and get rid of the recurring sleep paralysis by following simple therapeutic recommendations:

  1. Developing the habit of going to bed at one time.
  2. Perform regular exercises, be active during the day, more often in the fresh air. A healthy lifestyle contributes to the interaction of the brain with the muscles, which allows you to achieve their well-coordinated work during sleep.
  3. Refusal of bad habits, exclusion of the use of toning drinks before bedtime and in the evening, refusal to take pills that cause insomnia.
  4. Airing the room before bedtime, relaxing baths and drinking herbal decoctions.
  5. You need to learn how to fall asleep on your side, at first you can put objects under your back that prevent you from turning on your back, or you can fall asleep, tightly pressed against the wall.
  6. It is necessary to establish the number of hours required for sleep. This indicator is individual – six hours are enough for someone, someone does not get enough sleep even for eight.

What to do when sleep paralysis occurs

Sleep paralysis is impossible to prevent, if it has already happened. The brain is half awake unable to understand where the dream is and where it is. However, to get rid of the syndrome as soon as possible under the force of any person.

The main thing is to realize that the shadows, monsters, witches and devils are hallucinations, there is no mystical background in them, they are harmless, easily removable. Some rules will help to arrest the panic from sleep paralysis.

What not to do:

  • No need to rush to get rid of muscle weakness, try to raise your hand or turn your head. Proved until the brain itself “turns on” the muscles, the stupor will only increase panic fear of helplessness.
  • You should not hold your breath, as most people do when they are afraid of something. The cessation of oxygen supply leads to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the lungs, which further complicates the respiratory reflexes.
  • But quick breathing is also not necessary, hyperventilation (a glut of oxygen in the lungs) aggravates the feeling of anxiety and fear.

What should be done:

  • try to mentally relax;
  • take one deep breath and breathe evenly as usual after;
  • since the muscles of the mouth are also constrained, you need to try to make at least some sound with your mouth closed – scream, moan;
  • close your eyes tightly even with your eyes closed;
  • at the first signs of muscle activity, begin movements from the tongue, move them around the gums and the sky;
  • try to move, making small movements first, – move your index finger on your hand, inflate your cheeks, move your feet in different directions;
  • intellectual brain warm-up helps: counting from 0 to 10 and vice versa, enumeration of the letters of the alphabet, memories of the past day.

These actions help you quickly regain control over your body and eliminate sleep paralysis.

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