What Are The Causes Of Sleep Paralysis?

Last updated by Katie M.

I wake up and can no longer move… I’ve experienced this very frightening phenomenon several times! This feeling of being paralyzed and having a horrible presence approaching me and terrorizing me. This is what we call sleep paralysis! Now I’ve identified the causes of this disorder, I can escape it. But how can I understand them? What causes sleep paralysis?

What is sleep paralysis?

A common parasomnia

Sleep paralysis is part of parasomnia, just like night terrors. Parasomnia is a group of sleep disorders that occur while you sleep or at the limit between being awake and falling asleep. Sleep paralysis occurs very often during REM sleep. This phase, rapid eye movement sleep, corresponds to deep sleep, but where there is intense brain activity.

🌙 It’s a common sleep disorder. 30% of people will experience it once or twice in their lives.

What happens during sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is rather horrible to experience because you feel like you’re paralyzed. You can see your bedroom and your bed, but you can’t move. You try to scream because you’re aware of everything that’s happening around you. Moreover, some people even have hallucinations with a threatening presence. Many testify that during their sleep paralysis, they’ve seen a “demon”. Others also have the feeling they’re suffocating, but it’s “just” a hallucination.

➜ It feels as if this moment lasts for hours, even though it only lasts for a few minutes at most.

>>> Discover what causes our nightmares

What are the causes of sleep paralysis?

The brain is to blame

There is a scientific explanation for this very frightening phenomenon. As mentioned above, the paralysis occurs during REM sleep. This phase is very intense and this is usually when we have crazy dreams. To prevent our bodies from having violent reactions and injuring ourselves, the brain will therefore paralyze our muscles. This is a natural protection of our bodies!

➜ This is why we feel like we can’t move during sleep paralysis, but our senses are deceived. Our brains are awake, but not our bodies!

Factors that contribute to paralysis

Even if it’s a benign sleep disorder, it’s a very anxiety-provoking experience. There are factors that favor it, such as:

  • Age, teenagers and young adults are more prone to them,
  • Stress or generalized anxiety,
  • A life change (grief, separation, moving house, etc.),
  • A lack of sleep or non-restorative sleep,
  • Narcolepsy cataplexy, another sleep disorder characterized by bouts of sleep during the day.

>>> This article might interest you: Why do some people talk in their sleep?

How can you treat sleep paralysis?

How should you react during sleep paralysis?

It’s very difficult not to panic when you suffer from sleep paralysis. You shouldn’t try to wake up at any cost, but rather attempt to go back to sleep. If you experience this often, it is easier to recognize this unpleasant moment. You should therefore focus on calming things and try to relax.

This experience can be traumatic and can therefore lead to more stress. A vicious circle is created in this case, which is why everything possible should be done to avoid it. To do this, it’s worth trying meditation exercises to fall asleep quickly.

What treatment exists to stop sleep paralysis?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment to avoid sleep paralysis. The best way is to understand the causes of the paralysis episode (stress, emotional shock, etc.). For minor disorders, you should learn to combat stress naturally in order to promote restful sleep.

If this parasomnia is incapacitating and causes increasing fatigue, it’s important to consult a health professional. For severe forms, an anti-depressant treatment is prescribed. The most important thing in order to get better is to understand the reasons that cause the paralysis.

Editor’s note: Talk about your experiences!

Have you already experienced an episode of sleep paralysis? If so, don't hesitate to contact a health professional, and why not even open about it to your friends and family? Don't forget, we're all in this together!

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Article presented by Katie M.

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