What is sleep paralysis, and why does it happen?

A couple of times in my life, I have suffered what is referred to as “sleep paralysis”. It almost felt as if my hips and shoulders were pinned to the bed, I couldn’t talk or move and I was completely conscious.  One time in particular I can remember feeling the pressure as if someone was pressing their hands and sitting on my chest. The first time it happened I was in total shock, and had no idea what had just happen. So naturally I reached to my bed side table, grabbed my phone, and frantically typed what had just happened into google. When I found sleep paralysis pop up on my screen I was confused and had many questions. What was it? Why does it happen? Will this happen often? etc. Google quickly answered many of my questions, some vaguely, and some more specifically. I still didn’t understand or know the topic fully. Since it has happened multiple times since, and was reminded of it when it happened during a nap this past week. I decided to write this blog post on the subject, what it is, and why it happens.

Sleep paralysis is defined as a period during the sleep or waking up process in which the individual is unable to move or speak for a period of time. During this time, the person is awake, and conscious but loses the prior mentioned motor skills. From my experience I can attest to this description as accurate. Scientists say that sleep paralysis is a sign that the body is not moving through the stages of the sleep process smoothly, this could be partially due to the fact that it typically occurs close to when a person has fallen asleep, or is close to waking up (Web MD). Sleep paralysis is not thought of to be harmful in any way (Alphr). Here is a video I found that states twenty-five facts about the sleeping disorder.

During the sleep cycle our body shifts between stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and non rapid eye movement (NREM). The periods of REM are when most dreaming occurs due to the fact that the brain is most active during those stages of sleep. Additionally an individual’s voluntary muscles are unable to move and become paralyzed, this is called atonia. Sleep paralysis occurs during the REM stages of sleep, when a person wakes up before the stage is complete. Because of the characteristics of REM stages, this is why people seem alert and awake during sleep paralysis. The same reasons are why individuals may experience hallucinations, and see things, but cannot move (Alaska).

There are many possible causes of sleep paralysis. Many articles and studies state that sleep paralysis is more likely to occur for those who sleep on their back rather than other positions. Additionally, a lack of sleep, certain medications and irregular sleeping patterns could cause the disorder (Alaska). People with mental disorders are also more likely to experience sleep paralysis. According to a 2011 study conducted by Penn State University, 31.9 percent of people with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety have reportedly experienced an episode of sleep paralysis. This is compared to 7.6 percent of people total who have experienced episodes of the sleeping disorder (Life).

There is no specific treatment for sleep paralysis. However, many scientists suggest start by getting a good nights sleep every night. Start developing a routine where you go to bed at approximately the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning. Additionally, it is suggested that you look into your family’s health, and mental health history. This way, you can see if you could possibly be suffering from a mental disorder that so often causes the disorder (Web MD).


3 thoughts on “What is sleep paralysis, and why does it happen?

  1. Patrick Ryan

    Wow now this explains something I have actually experienced. Before reading your article, I’ve had this happen to be like twice before and I had no idea what it was. After reading this, it makes a lot of sense of what actually happened to me. Glad to see other people experience this too. I did a little more research on it and found an interesting but kind of creepy video on youtube about it…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ACtMP7NHMg

  2. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    I really enjoyed reading your article, interesting topic I haven’t seen this one yet. Believe it or not I actually have experienced sleep paralysis multiple times in my life. I have to agree with you that if feels like my hips and shoulders are just glued down to the mattress and when I try to speak my mouth wont open. I have always wondered whether or not this was a big issue or something that can just happen to anyone. After reading your article I am now at easy after hearing its really not that big of a deal. Here is an article from WebMD.com just explaining what sleep paralysis really is as well as the symptoms and causes.

  3. Maria Jean Conti

    I usually almost sleep on my stomach and very recently, the one time I fell asleep on my back, I experienced this. So that makes makes sense that it occurs mostly when people sleep on their backs. It was honestly one of the scariest things I have ever experienced and I hope it never happens agains. I felt like I was trapped in my body, trying to wake myself up, but i couldn’t open my eyes or move my body. Super weird.

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