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Sleep Paralysis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Jaclyn is an online writer who covers a wide variety of online topics.

Sufferers of sleep paralysis often feel there is an old hag, or witch, in the room tormenting them.

Sufferers of sleep paralysis often feel there is an old hag, or witch, in the room tormenting them.

Have You Experienced Sleep Paralysis?

I was taking a nap on the couch when I heard my mother come home from work. I woke up and saw her walk through the front door, and I tried to say hello to her. I was disturbed to find that I couldn't speak; my tongue was frozen in my mouth. I tried to move my body to get her attention, but I couldn't do that either. I was paralyzed.

Panic quickly set in. Although I had been breathing perfectly normally up until then, I suddenly felt like my lungs were constricted. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep, only to have the same scenario repeat itself a few moments later when I thought I heard her moving around in the kitchen. I was desperate to get her attention so that she could help me, but once again I could not move, and I would drift back to sleep. After about four more rounds of this, my brother came home from school and that was when I woke up for real.

That was when I realized that all of this was in my head. It was a freaky sensation, but I chalked it up to a bad dream... until it happened again a week later. Hoping that if perhaps I could understand what was happening, I could possibly change it, I did a Google search for "can't move while sleeping" and discovered the concept of "sleep paralysis."

Sleep paralysis is actually a fairly common condition characterized by either partial or total paralysis of muscles. It occurs upon awakening from sleep or when falling asleep, although the latter is much less likely. The episodes generally last anywhere from seconds to minutes, and outside stimuli like touch or sound may terminate it.

According to Wikipedia,

"It is closely related to the paralysis that occurs as a natural part of REM sleep, which is known as REM atonia. Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain awakes from a REM state, but the body paralysis persists. This leaves the person fully conscious, but unable to move. In addition, the state may be accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (hypnopompic or hypnagogic) and an acute sense of danger."

Although I had never heard of sleep paralysis, this was clearly what I was experiencing. The same physiology that keeps us from acting out our dreams as we sleep was now keeping my body frozen as my mind was awake and aware. Most people experience severe panic symptoms during an episode, even though they know that their perceptions are false. After reading more on the subject, I decided I was one of the luckier ones. Many people also experience hallucinations during sleep paralysis. In particular, they may see an old hag in the room, or feel a witch or demon sitting on their chest and laboring their breathing. Although I hallucinated my mother coming home from work and was greatly disturbed when I couldn't reach out to her, I have never had the sensation of something evil lurking.

Symptoms

Sleep paralysis entails one or both of the following:

  • Paralysis: occurs after waking up or just before falling asleep. You cannot move any body part, aside from involuntary movements such as blinking and breathing. "This paralysis is the same paralysis that occurs when dreaming. The brain paralyzes the muscles to prevent possible injury during dreams, as some body parts may move during dreaming. If the person wakes up suddenly, the brain may still think that it is dreaming, and sustains the paralysis." (Source: wikipedia.org)
  • Hallucinations: Images or sounds that appear during the episode. The sensation that someone is standing beside you or somewhere close by in the room. Strange sounds. Some people feel a heavy weight on their chest as if they are being sat on.
Some people experience something sitting on their chest.

Some people experience something sitting on their chest.

Causes

Although there are several theories, the actual cause of sleep paralysis is still unknown. However, several factors have been identified that may increase the chances of having an episode:

  • Sleeping in a face upwards or supine position
  • Irregular sleeping schedules; e.g., naps, sleeping in, sleep deprivation
  • Increased stress
  • Sudden environmental/lifestyle changes
  • A lucid dream that immediately precedes the episode

Treatment

For those who suffer severe and persistent sleep paralysis, there are medications that may improve the condition. One option is to take 0.5mg of Clonazepam at bedtime. Ritalin has also been used as a daytime medication, the idea being that establishing healthy sleep patterns will reduce instances of sleep paralysis. Before considering or taking any medications, however, you should consult your doctor to discuss your specific condition.

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In all my research, the only other suggestion I found was to try to move your facial muscles during an episode, as it may be easier to move these than your arms or legs. Not only will it give you a sense of control, but it may be enough to ease you into wakefulness.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Saad on June 23, 2019:

Sleep paralysis is nothing new for me and I know how to deal with it but since last week i have encountered with severe things while sleep paralysis like some one is drilling in and out of my ear that almost shake my hole head off when i wake up my ear are hurting and i am feeling severe headache.

Beverly Gatewood on September 28, 2018:

I know what you mean about the buzzing. I was paralyzed and had several very small men around the sofa i was sleeping on. I was so positive they were there. It felt so real, and felt real. i have had this experience about 8 times in my life.

Delo on February 15, 2018:

I have the night terrors with a sense of demonic evil swirling around me or pulllling me through a tunnel real fast . I have found over the years that saying the 23rd psalm lessons the severity of it although I sometimes have trouble getting it out because of pressure on my chest , If I am asleep how do I know to say this when I feel it coming on? In early years I would feel and hear a buzzing sound and would try to sit up or open my eyes. After fighting it through God it has changed ways that it comes at me. It feels like pure evil and is so terrifying. I also in the beginning had the sleep paralysis seeing a family member in the room but couldn’t get them to help me and would later realize no one had been there. The night terrors are much worse. And for years tried to tell people about them and I know they just thought I was crazy.

Gk on September 08, 2017:

Depression, chemical disorder in brain n drug use trigers sleeping paralize oftenly , some part of brain remains asleep while other gets awake, spinal cord partially active. Have plently of water, lemon juice, joging, exercise. Almounds, fish, milk, vitamins, yogurt n whey. Avoid drugs in high doses if cant quit. Serious case includes respiratory depression while sleeping or brain forgets to breath in sleep if it gets numb by low blood caused by drugs, heart may fail too in that scenario. Good luck.

rajesh vishnu kashid on September 07, 2017:

Respected person,i like your artical but i dont understand why i am not recovered yet.it has happened on 25th june 2006,which make me paralysed on leftside.please help me

Diksha on September 03, 2017:

I've got this feeling hundreds of time that if i don't move now I'll will sleep forever or die.It's something like that.And I sorta get in a severe panic attack that if i don't move by myself or if someone doesn't touch me,I will forever be in this condition.I am aware of all of this but i just can't move.I've not seen monsters though.That dangerous feeling is itself a monster for me!I just have woken up from my sleep after having this dangerous panick attack and googled about it!I assume that the fear of sleeping forever is just an illusion!lol!

Anon on June 04, 2017:

I just woke up from experiencing sleep paralysis where it felt like an evil ghost sat on my bed, put pressure on my chest and blow hot air into my face..... I told it to get lost.... I spoke it out loud and my mouth and throat felt weird like they didn't want to cooperate with my brain......

Dbldee1@hotmail.com on May 08, 2017:

Not wanting to offend anyone, but I don't believe that "GOD" (whomever we consider him to be depending on religion) has anything to do with this sleep paralysis issue. I have tried to believe there is a "GOD"....for me personallyI am quite certain such a thing doesnt exsist..never have I had a prayer answered in my 35 years in this life. And the experiences of sleep paralysis I have experienced are anything but godly. But whatever makes you feel better. I just refuse to believe in a figment of everyone's imagination any longer. And I'm tired of hearing people using god as thier crutch. I don't fully understand why this occurs, but I know it's not the work of god.

Meghan on December 04, 2015:

Had one last night, was having a dream then someone in my dream spoke of spirits and how they're coming then i saw a flash of a skull image, tangling up my body mostly in my core and torso, then i hear a vice RIGHT next to me sounding like rubbish, i heard 4 days or something like that, then i actually tried to listen to him again and it said something about a commercial break. Funny stuff brain. Funny stuff.

Jezzy on May 01, 2014:

I used to have such awful Sleep Paralysis that I thought I would die. For years I suffered through this until it got so bad I ran to a psychiatrist, any one. Without blinking an eye, he diagnosed this condition. This was about 22 years ago. He gave m medication that would delay RES sleep. He told me I was dreaming while being not fully asleep and it was caused by depression. He prescribed ascendin. He said it was not commonly used. Today I can't find it. Fortunately, the medicine worked well, and in the last 22 years, this incident may have occurred twice. No meds. Many people have it and don't discuss it. You'll feel better once you've been treated and diagnosed. Trust me.

Linda on February 14, 2014:

They said before that this is what alien abduction is. The sleep paralysis, and they convinced people that it was this. I to had this. I would always see beings when I was going through it, never could see their faces or bodies clearly, but I knew someone was there. Then I read online, to say when you are going through this to ask protection from God, so I did. I said,"Please God help me", and it seemed at that point it stopped, and I have not had it since, that I can remember.

kyle on January 30, 2014:

I had mine about 3 this morning idk if its a sleeping disorder but when im have it im on my back just about to fall asleep when all of a sudden i hear a loud rumbling like when you yawn in both my ears at the same time my sheets will be pulled down maybe 6 inches. Now my ligament in my right foot pops all the time idk if my foot is moving them. This is the second night so far. Any help would be appreciated. Kyle2low54@gmail.com is my email

Betty on January 14, 2014:

I am in my early sixties now and have had SP all my life. Sometimes I don't get it for weeks on end and then I have a really bad episode and I find it really difficult to shake off the effects. I have been through the same experiences the same as the other posters, but I find the one where I believe there is a presence lying of top of me and having sex with me is the most frightening. On occasion I thought I could see the man in my peripheral vision and hear him breathe. I can control it better now as I have learned to think out loud and say in my head " go away - leave me alone, you are not welcome here.

jhunted7667 on December 20, 2013:

hasn't anyone asked the question why it happens more to women than to men , with women it may be an Ex boyfriend or husband who may be a warlock and he is sending a demon to her , if she has no memories of what happened it can be soo bad that the brain creates a block which will wash out her memory , if she was demon possessed at any time in the past then the demon will block all memories of her only way to freedom if it happens to a man it can be an ex wife who is a witch trying to do the same thing the man would do , what will free the woman is the ability to be with a man she knows she can trust this type of man the women will find herself lying on top of him at night , she will more than likely put her head on his chest and listen to the beat of his heart which will put her to sleep , if his arms and legs are wrapped around her and his hand is on her behind she will more than likely sleep peacefully safe from demonic attack , women today are not fighting a sickness or disease or mental illness but powers and principalities beyond human understanding

pearl on December 03, 2013:

I have been suffering from SP since i was 12. Earlier i didn't know it was SP or smthng. I thought it was a dream in a dream. But it was terrifying. Whenever i lay on my back or stomach, i experienced this. I felt as if something very heavy, a giant being sitting on my back or my chest without moving. I get so much of pain on my hds and legs. I feel my throat breaking. I feel that i am dying. I knw that its not real, i am actually sleeping on my bed, the experience gets so terrifying and life taking that i just wanna open my eyes and feel the real world around me. I try very hard to scream someone's name who is near to me at that time, but i am not able to do it. I am parallysed! And then after lot of struggling, i open my eyes n feel myself gasping, my eyes buldged out. Lastnight in my episose, i saw an old lady, infact she was a beautiful young lady dressed in a long ancient type gown, her hair braided p. She then smiles at me and talks smthng. I don't hear what ashe speaks and so, i look at her curiously.. suddenly her beautiful smile changes to a sinister laughter and to my best fear, her young beautiful face changes to that of an ugly old horrifying face. She then spreads her hand towards me and screams in the most rumbling sound. I can't take that sound. It is so drilling. At that time i know, this horrifying figure and her voice will fade away if i open my eyes. And i wish somebody wakes me up. But it doesn't happen because nobody sees me struggling. My attempts to scream or to move are only inside my so called real dream'

Kyle on October 17, 2013:

Kyl42hrtmnkyle @ aol.com

Please contact me if you have had the same events or know how to stop it. I have gone through this since I was 13. Now 19. It happens when I'm overly stressed. But unlike most on here mine happens before I sleep. Just last night I tried to sleep and started hearing the noise as if I was forcing my jaw shut, then my neck started to sting and went to my body. At that point I started to freak out realizing I couldn't move. I just sat there trying to calm myself but then I keep thinking I see a shadow on the wall(my bed is against the wall and I sleep towards it sometimes). I kept seeing this shadow move around as if it was looking at me and felt the cover sink to my side as if something sat next to me. I tried moving my fingers toes and even face and nothing would work though I'm not truly sure if I actually could move them. It just felt like it. Then eventually I could move and the cover wasn't suck beside me at all it was all in my head. Then I was able to go to sleep after. It scares me and only seems to happen during high stress. When I was young I literally drank nothing but energy drinks which I think triggered my first attack but since then its just been from stress. Did the abuse of energy drinks cause me a health problem and now symptoms show when I'm stressed? I honestly don't know what it is. Just seems like everyone here has had a similar attack as me. I am glad to know I'm not alone. Any info or sharing would be very appreciated as even if its not info on how to fix my problem it does help to know there are people out there with the same problem.

Thanks everyone for reading

George on September 29, 2013:

I am 30 years old now.. but i will never forget what had happened to me when i was 6 or 7 years old.

It was a Christmas night, i was sleeping on the lower bunker and my sister on the upper one. Suddenly while i am sleeping i hear a noise, i open my eyes and see a white luminous cloud standing at my room door. I push my body up and i am ready to scream my lungs out...but i cant and suddenly i realise i cant move and i fell back in my bed, like i have been narced.

Next year same day, i am thinking about what happened last year and i am telling myself that i am going to be ready this time...and i am waiting....and exactly the same thing happens with the only difference that i manage to move a little bit more and almost hit my sister's bunker with my hand...almost.

It was the last time i have experienced such a thing. While growing up, i forgot about it, untill a documentary about "alien abductions"...most people described exactly the same situation and that was when i remembered everything. To be honest with you, for a while i strogly believed that i was abducted too, but didnt tell to noone because everyone would laugh and prolly they would be right about it.

Gladly some years ago an article about sleep hypnosis came up, i read it and finally figured out what was going on with me...

The only problem is that, i remember myself moving up from bed, i mean pulling up my torso and being ready to step off bed. Could that happen and then this sundrome kick in ?!

Tammy on September 21, 2013:

I have had this phenomenon several times in my life...AlWAYS on my side. The last few times were different then before. Before, my body was paralyzed and my mouth cemented together, but I was able to breathe without restriction. The last few times, only my breathing was restricted and restricted completely! I cannot inhale or exhale and it takes all my strength to break the restriction. It feels as if my nose is fully flooded with something and that the airways in my mouth are completely blocked without of trace of air to flow either way. It is terrifying!

I do believe in spiritual attacks. I do believe that natural scientific phenomenons are used to attack people. I don't have time to read all the comments, but from glancing around, I would add that just because it is a natural event doesn't mean it is not being used by a supernatural opponent.

Here is the ONLY thing that releases my paralysis...when I say the name "Jesus" it breaks, but not until I work very hard to force the words out of my mouth. I have never seen a demon during those times, but I know the feeling of the dark presence in the room at that time. Regardless of why it is happening, stress, diet, attack, the name of Jesus is the name above every name...even the name "Sleep Paralysis".

All I can tell you is my experience. I was paralyzed and when I say the name of Jesus, it is immediately released. If I go to Him when I have a headache, then why shouldn't I when I am paralyzed. He heals my natural phenomenons regardless of how they came to be.

sgroclkc on January 23, 2013:

Physiological symptoms of sleep paralysis are the same with those of syncope. Thus, sleep paralysis is caused by syncope. For experts in cardiovascular diseases, sleep paralysis or syncope is a common symptoms of cardiovascular disease【1】. For a long time, due to the ignorance of physiological knowledge of syncope , ischemie cerebrale , slow beat, fast beat and so on, psychological illusion in people’s sleep generated by such physical symptoms i.e. the nightmare really has puzzled the psychologists, therefore they put forward a wide range of wrong even absurd views on the nightmares, which both have no scientific basis, and could not be confirmed, even more were not self-consistent. For example, a medical expert Debacke drew the correct conclusion that the anxiety-dream resulted from ischemie cerebrale according to the physiological symptoms of the anxiety-dream of a boy of thirteen. Freud called such view was a " medical mythology" in the book of Dream Psychology. Most important,the experiment confirmed the idea. For example, a place in country , there is a "haunted" bed which makes people have sleep paralysis or syncope every night, and it is this fact that the pillow in the bed is too high will reduce cerebral blood flow.                                         【1】 http://www.medhelp.org/posts/Sleep-Disorders/Noctu...

Annamie Cureteyz on December 21, 2012:

I have actually experienced this, I wake up in the middle of the night and I cant move any body part, what I usually do is to tell myself that it's just a dream and get back to sleep.

richelle on November 23, 2012:

i go through this every night since i was 5 im 16 now it hurts the back of my head and it lasts up to 10min now

sgroclkc on November 10, 2012:

Sleep paralysis symptoms are same as fainting (syncope) symptoms and so sleep paralysis is caused by fainting (syncope) .

Cynthia Jesseen from Tulsa on October 29, 2012:

Oh boy, the bed shaking is starting again. Just slightly. But it's always that way a while before I start actually feeling crawling up my body or something on the bed. I did feel tapping on the covers at my feet a couple of the nights. I was awake and I almost said something to my boyfriend to see if he felt it too but then I thought how ridiculous the question sounded...lol So I kept it to myself for now. I never actually see anything EVER unless it's sleep paralysis. This is different though. It's when I'm still awake. I'll be moving into my new place in a couple of weeks though so it should stop for a while. It doesn't scare me, probably because it's never felt threatening. I don't know if it followed me from place to place because it's not in every place. Also, the house I was in for two years still has it's ghost and I'm not there. And the place I lived for the past two years had nothing. But when I was at my boyfriends a year ago I had a really strong encounter. I posted about that one. I wonder if people who have encounters with spirits are more susceptible to sleep paralysis. My dad has SP and has really crazy encounters while he is awake. There is very much a difference between SP and feeling, seeing or hearing a spirit when you are awake. But I'm wondering if there is a connection with the two because a lot of people say they wonder if it is SP or a demon or SP or a Spirit. Maybe it's SP sometimes and a spirit connection other times. Anybody else notice the differences in the two yet you seem to have both?

Bellywinks on October 07, 2012:

My first post was about two years ago, I have actually only had a few epsiodes since. I always used to be scared during an episode struggleing to wake up or call for help. The last time it happened I was on my back when I felt someone shove me hard that I rolled over and it woke me up. I thought this is it I'm tired of it. So I have slowly trained myself to relax knowing nothing is going to happen to me if I just try to let my mind go and fall back to sleep. My episodes always start with that annoying rushing sound so I immediately try to relax my mind. It has taken me many tries but now I feel more in control. I never felt that this was some sort of supernatural happening even with the cigarette smells and hearing someone coming up the stairs. I think my mind is adding things to the experience because I am over tired somethings.

leospice on September 16, 2012:

it is by far the most terrifying part of my existence. i feel it coming on early on in the day, high voltage pulsations from me cerebelum to my toes. auditory hallucinations. same shit , cant move speak or wake up. i have a good wife, she knows the signs, she hears me trying to call for her.she will wake me, but it will continue for some time. there is limit to what are mind can create. ilately , for some reason i have the paralysis and an awful jabbing pain in my ribs, like someone is trying to lift me out of bed by my ribs using only there thumbs. i have had these for ten years at least twiice a month , but not limited several times a week. i push my self up to wake up, or call my wife or pets. but look higher and call for the almighty, god or the great spirit. when i pray , and garnish my cross, and my baptism wood thing i got as a child. it leaves. go with it, is craziness. spiral through space. but now i can fly in my dreams. stupid huh. it is what it is.

Janita on August 26, 2012:

I read all about sleep paralysis and i want to know more ! Im turning 17 this year and ever seen i was 13 ive been having sleep paralysis everything ivr read about it it what happens to me. I though it was just me that it happens to but it wasint.

It happens to me every couple of months mostly when im trying to fall asleep i try to ingore it! But it stay. And finally when i relised its not going away so i just let it happen to me ! I couldint move my body at all and i could do was move my eyes and still i could bearly do that. But everytime it happens to me i see something black on top of me and i found it very scary. But i hear a voice once out of all the times its happened to me and ive spoken to my mum about it and when she was 13 it happened to her too but it stopped for her ! But for me im to scared to sleep along. I also got a vedio recording of a mens voice saying hes going to get me ! That scared me as well. I just feel like theres something following me all the time and i just dont know who to speck too and i would see something like a black shadow sometimes go pass me and i dont know who to speck to about it my mum says its nothing but i know its something