Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move or speak that happens when you are waking up or, less commonly, falling asleep.
Although you are awake, your body is briefly paralysed, after which you can move and speak as normal. The paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes.
Sleep paralysis does not cause you any harm, but being unable to move can be very frightening.
Some people have sleep paralysis once or twice in their life, while others experience it a few times a month or more regularly.
Read about the symptoms of sleep paralysis.
What causes sleep paralysis?
It is normal for your muscles to be paralysed at certain times when you are asleep. Sleep paralysis occurs when the mechanism that causes your muscles to relax during sleep temporarily persists after you have woken up.
Sleep paralysis can sometimes be a symptom of narcolepsy. This is a relatively rare sleep disorder that causes a person to fall asleep suddenly and unexpectedly, disrupting their normal sleep pattern.
Other things that increase your risk of sleep paralysis include:
- sleep deprivation
- irregular sleeping patterns
- age – it is more common in teenagers and young adults
Read more about the causes of sleep paralysis.
If you have sleep paralysis, your GP may be able to suggest ways you can improve your sleep.
If your symptoms are linked to another sleep-related condition, such as narcolepsy, your GP may be refer you to a sleep disorder specialist (see below).
Treating sleep paralysis
The symptoms of sleep paralysis can often be improved by altering your sleep habits and sleeping environment.
Sleep paralysis often affects people who are sleep deprived, so ensuring you get enough sleep may reduce the number of episodes you have. Most adults need 6-8 hours of sleep each night.
Going to bed at roughly the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning may also help.
Read more about how to improve your sleep habits.
If your sleep paralysis is particularly severe, see your GP. They may refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist.
A short course of antidepressant medication, such as clomipramine, may be prescribed to treat severe sleep paralysis.
Read more about treatment for sleep paralysis.