Treating sleep paralysis 

Ensuring you get enough sleep and improving your sleeping environment will help if you have sleep paralysis. In severe cases, medication may be recommended.

Sleeping habits

Sleep paralysis is more common in people who are sleep deprived, so getting enough sleep may help to reduce the number of episodes of sleep paralysis you have. Most adults need six to eight hours of good quality sleep each night.

Keeping to a regular sleeping schedule, where you go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, can also help.

Tips for improving your sleeping habits include:

  • creating a restful sleeping environment that's quiet, dark and not too hot or cold
  • ensuring your bed is comfortable
  • exercising regularly (but not too close to bedtime)
  • cutting down on caffeine 
  • not eating or drinking alcohol before bedtime
  • giving up smoking (if you smoke) because nicotine is a stimulant

Medication

If your sleep paralysis is particularly troublesome, you may be prescribed a short course of antidepressant medication, such as a tricyclic antidepressant (TA), typically clomipramine.

Antidepressants affect mood and are usually used to treat depression, but are also sometimes prescribed to treat severe sleep paralysis.

By slightly changing some of the neurochemicals in your brain that control REM sleep, the medication alters the amount and depth of REM sleep. This should help to prevent the temporary paralysis when you wake up or fall asleep, and it should also help to reduce any hallucinations you may have.

You may be advised to take the medication for a month or two to see whether it improves your symptoms.

Possible side effects of TAs can include:

  • dry mouth
  • constipation 
  • sweating
  • difficulty urinating
  • blurred vision
  • drowsiness

Any side effects should ease after 7 to 10 days, as your body gets used to the medication. Visit your GP if the side effects haven't eased after this time.

Read more about the side effects of TAs.

Narcolepsy

Sleep paralysis can sometimes be a symptom of another sleep disorder called narcolepsy, which causes severe daytime sleepiness and an inability to stay alert for more than a few hours.

Although there's no cure for narcolepsy, the condition can usually be managed with appropriate medication.

A number of lifestyle adjustments may also help, including:

  • taking frequent brief naps during the day
  • sticking to a strict bedtime routine where you go to bed at the same time each night
  • ensuring you get at least eight hours of sleep every night
  • avoiding stressful situations, eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise (but not too close to bedtime)

Read more treatment advice for narcolepsy.

Page last reviewed: 19/11/2014

Next review due: 19/11/2016