Sleep paralysis: find out what it is and what causes it

You wake up at dawn without being able to move.

It looks like there’s something on your chest. It is difficult to breathe. When you try to scream, your mouth doesn’t open, your voice doesn’t come out.

A few moments of panic later, you are able to get up. Turn on the light and there’s no one in the room.

You have just experienced sleep paralysis and it is more common than you might think.

Understand everything about the condition in the following text!


What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a desynchronization between mind and body at bedtime.

When we sleep, our bodies and minds need to enter this state of rest at the same time.

Normally, when we sleep, the body is “paralyzed” so that movements that we make in a dream are not reproduced in real life.

It turns out that, in some situations, there may be a lack of synchrony. That’s when sleep paralysis happens.

If your mind wakes up, but your body remains in a state of rest, you cannot move and it can be scary in itself.

It is as if your body is asleep, but you are awake, trapped in it. But that is not all that makes this one of the most frightening experiences we can go through.

The human brain is always working and he hates doing anything. It is one of the reasons why we dream. When we are in a state of sleep paralysis, this is no different.

You are frightened and your brain fills the confusion you are in with images, sounds and other sensations. This is the part that is scary.

Sleep paralysis occurs during REM sleep, the lightest phase of sleep. It is a common situation, affecting most people at least once in their lives.

Because it is a failure of synchrony, sleep paralysis usually occurs when we are about to fall asleep or just before we wake up.

It is in this moment of transition that the problem is most likely to happen.

Read more: Using electronic devices at night interferes with sleep quality

Is sleep paralysis a sleep disorder?

Not exactly. Sleep paralysis fits more as a symptom of a possible disorder than as the condition itself.

For example, narcolepsy can have sleep paralysis as a symptom.

Likewise, it can be a symptom of habits or emotional states, such as anxiety , stress, or abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Read more: Sleep disorders increase chances of having Alzheimer’s

What causes sleep paralysis?

Before we get into the subject a little deeper, it is interesting to know a little about what can cause sleep paralysis

It turns out that there is no certainty and it is estimated that everyone will experience it at least once in their life.

However, some situations can increase the chances of it happening. Are they:

  • Stress;
  • Anxiety;
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder;
  • Irregular sleep;
  • Sudden changes in life;
  • Drug-induced sleep;
  • High tiredness;
  • Use of drugs;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Low rates of sleep hormones (such as melatonin).
  • Narcolepsy (a disease that makes a person fall asleep suddenly and uncontrollably).

In addition to these causes, there are also people who enter this state on purpose to achieve the so-called lucid dream, or in an attempt to achieve it.

Lucid dreams

Have you ever been in the middle of a dream and suddenly realized that it was all a dream?

Most of the times that happens, surprise wakes us up. However, some people manage to stay lucid while dreaming, which is nothing more than our imagination. Thus, these people are able to have complete control over the dream.

It is not an easy thing to do, but it is possible to learn, and it goes through a process very close to sleep paralysis. It is necessary to make the body sleep, but the mind remains awake and lucid.

The problem is that this can often end up putting the person in a state of sleep paralysis. When this happens, hallucinations can be too disturbing for the person to take control.

Frequent sleep paralysis: what can it be?


When sleep paralysis happens very often, it can be a sign that something more complicated is happening.

While almost everyone suffers from sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, those who face it almost every night may be dealing with sleep disorders like narcolepsy.

It is also possible that other conditions cause it. This is the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, which can cause sleep paralysis.

In most cases, there should be no concern, but when paralysis is frequent, you should see a doctor to find out what may be causing the condition.

Read more: Recovering sleep over the weekend does not help your health

Signs of sleep paralysis

The signs of sleep paralysis are extremely obvious, but for the most part, we are in a state of confusion upon waking up and the situation can be very frightening.

So it can be difficult for a person to be calm enough to be able to get out of paralysis. The signs are as follows:


When we are about to fall asleep, asleep or just before waking up, our body does not respond to attempts at movement. If he did, we would risk walking around the house when we move within a dream.

It turns out that when paralysis occurs, our mind wakes up and finds itself unable to move the body. The only voluntary muscles that move are the eyes, and in some cases, you can also control your fingertips or tongue with some difficulty.

Immobility is not a danger since breathing, heartbeat and other involuntary muscles move normally, but it prevents voluntary movements.


When we go into sleep paralysis, it is possible that there are hallucinations, involving auditory, visual and kinesthetic (which involve touch).

The brain can try to explain what’s going on, which often makes you see things holding you in bed, for example.

Many people report that they feel a weight on their chest, as if someone is sitting on it.

Especially in the dark, it is easy to imagine that you are seeing someone out of the corner of your eye or even on top of you. Screams, whispers and voices can also be heard in certain situations.

All of this is your brain trying to interpret what is going on. Often, because of the dread the situation causes, you can see and hear frightening things until the paralysis is over.

How to prevent sleep paralysis?


There is no guarantee, but it is possible to avoid behaviors that can facilitate sleep paralysis.

  • Always sleep at the same time;
  • Avoid excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol;
  • Avoid spending long periods of time without sleeping and resting;
  • Avoid drinks like coffee, soda or energy drinks before bed.

Sleeping on your back can make paralysis easier, so avoiding this position, if possible, is a good idea.

Read more: Change habits and find out how to sleep well

How to wake up from sleep paralysis?

Waking up from sleep paralysis can be very difficult. The situation usually lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it is possible to speed up the process.

The most important thing is to remain calm, although it is easier said than done. During sleep paralysis, as you have just woken up, there can be confusion.

This makes keeping calm is generally very difficult, but not impossible.

Realize that you are experiencing sleep paralysis and make an effort to move.

In some cases, you may be able to move your fingers or tongue, so do so. Eventually you can break through the paralysis.

If this happens during the night, do not go back to sleep immediately. Get up, have a glass of water and then go back to bed.

Medical care

If you are dealing with very frequent episodes of sleep paralysis it may be a good idea to seek medical help. It may be a case of narcolepsy or other health problems.

Are there treatments?

Not exactly.

When there is a case of narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder that causes the person to feel a very strong and sudden sleep, this condition can be treated and the tendency is for the paralysis to decrease in frequency.

The problem is that the cause is rarely identified, so it is very difficult to treat the condition.

Usually, improving sleep habits, reducing stress and trying to follow the recommendations to avoid sleep paralysis is what can be done.

Read more: Natural sleep remedy: 6 home treatment options

How to have sleep paralysis?

It is possible to cause sleep paralysis and have the experience on purpose. It is not always possible to guarantee that you will be able to do it (it is easy to end up sleeping completely unintentionally), but with practice it becomes easier.

Lie on your back, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Try not to move or think about anything.

The goal is to really sleep, but keeping your mind focused on breathing can cause it and your body to lose synchrony.

If you don’t move and can keep your mind focused on breathing, in about 10 minutes the paralysis begins.

It is at this point that you may accidentally fall asleep, but if you succeed, hallucinations can begin and you will not be able to move.

Remember to stay calm. Hallucinations can cause no harm and pose no danger.

To get out of this state, if you feel uncomfortable, you can try to blink several times or try to move.

Read more: How to sleep fast? Techniques and tips for good sleep

Reports of sleep paralysis

It was not necessary to go very far to get reports of sleep paralysis.

It is likely that everyone will experience it at least once in their life.

Only here in the newsroom of Hickey solution, 3 people have already had sleep paralysis, counting on the writer who is writing this text. 2 of the reports are here.


“ I woke up at dawn, lying on my side, and tried to look at the time on my cell phone, but I just couldn’t move. I tried to open my eyes, but they were too heavy.

I had read a few times about sleep paralysis, but it had never happened to me, so I was a little nervous.

I remembered people on the internet telling about how horrible hallucinations could be and, as if the thought had provoked them, they started.

I didn’t see anything properly, but it was as if I knew she was there.

I have a favorite monster: Banshee. It is an Irish mythological creature, not very well known in Brazil.

She is a specter who cries a lot and screams to announce death. Have you seen the movie Mama? I’m sure the monster was based on a Banshee and that appearance is very close to how I imagine them.

The moment I remembered the hallucinations, she appeared. A Banshee right in front of my closed eyes, screaming.

In the background, I could hear my brothers’ voices screaming too.

I knew it was a hallucination caused by sleep paralysis, but there are few things more terrifying than that scream from your little side.

I pushed as hard as I could to get up and after 3 or 4 seconds – which seemed very long – I managed.

I opened my eyes, raised my head. My body was still super tired, I had just woken up, but the noise stopped and there was nothing in my room.

I took a deep breath, calmed myself, laid my head down and closed my eyes again.

Do you know when you wake up and are so sleepy that you just lie down again and it’s like you’ve never opened your eyes?

You just go back to sleep as if nothing has happened.

It happened to me, less than 5 seconds after waking up I fell asleep again. She started to scream again.

I panicked this time and started trying to move, but after relaxing the paralysis had returned.

It felt like she was closer now, I felt her fingers on my face. She kept screaming and I was doing all I could to scream and get up.

I lifted my head again. Everything was silent. My heart was pounding and I had a feeling she was just waiting for me to close my eyes to yell at me again.

I could still hear my brothers’ cries softly, but I was sure they weren’t real.

I made an effort to get up and turn on the light. I looked around, left the room. It was 4 am.

I walked around the house, had a cup of tea to make sure I was out of that state of sleep. I checked that my brothers were fine, just in case.

When I lay down again, it was easy to sleep. 


“ Unfortunately, sleep paralysis is something more recurrent than I would like in my life. I don’t remember how old I was for the first time and I haven’t been in a while. But when it does, that feeling of despair comes to the fore.

It is as if I am awake in my bed, unable to breathe properly, move any part of my body or speak.

My first reflex is to try to shout or talk to someone, to help me get out of the situation. However, it never worked.

Over time, I was able to identify when I was having sleep paralysis, which is comforting, since sometimes it is as if I have people by my side.

Gradually, I try to move my fingers and so I “recover” the movements until I can wake up.

As we know, there is nothing supernatural about these episodes, but our mind is capable of being very creative during these paralyzes.

Therefore, the feeling of having a figure close to your bed can happen, as it has already happened. 

Common questions

Can sleep paralysis kill?

No . Sleep paralysis is not life-threatening. Hallucinations can cause a lot of fear, but they are just your imagination. It is even possible to control them with a little bit of calm.

Is sleep paralysis dangerous?

No ! Sleep paralysis is not dangerous. Even when you find it difficult to breathe or feel suffocated – as if someone is in your chest – you are in no danger.

However, it is important to note that sleep paralysis, if it is frequent, can be a major source of stress and concern, in addition to the fact that fear can cause psychological trauma.

If you have frequent episodes of sleep paralysis, seek medical and psychological help.

How long does sleep paralysis last?

Sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to approximately 2 minutes. It is unlikely to be any longer than that.

Sleep paralysis can be frightening and extremely uncomfortable, and it can be both a symptom and a cause of poor sleep quality.