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Sleep Paralysis Symptoms

The symptoms of sleep paralysis are often confused by people for evil presences and even alien abductions. However, this medical condition is actually the result of an ill-timed disconnection between the brain and the body while falling asleep or when we wake up.
SleepHearty Staff
Last Updated: Jun 19, 2018
Have you ever had a frightening experience where even though you felt like you were awake, you are unable to move or call for help? Well, you might be suffering from a condition known as a sleep paralysis disorder. Over centuries, the symptoms of this condition have been described and attributed to evil presences like unseen demons and even alien abductors!
However, research has now shown that paralysis is simply a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. It is a feeling of being conscious while being unable to move and is usually the result of an ill-timed disconnection between the brain and the body.
While some may experience it only once, others may have it frequently, even several times a night. During this time, the person may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds or feel pressure or a sense of choking.
However, the good news is that this paralytic condition is not considered to be a dangerous health problem. Read on to find out more about sleep paralysis hallucinations, the possible causes, and the treatment options.
Understanding Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis occurs as a natural part of REM sleep or atonia, when the brain awakes from the REM state, but the body paralysis persists. This leaves the person conscious, but unable to move. This is usually accompanied by terrifying hallucinations and an acute sense of panic.
It usually occurs when you are falling asleep, also known as hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis, or when you are waking up (hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis).
The common symptoms of sleep paralysis disorder include:
  • Sensations of hearing noises or smells
  • Audio and visual hallucinations
  • Feelings of levitation
  • Inability to move the body
  • Heavy pressure on the chest
  • Feelings of terror
  • Images of frightening intruders
While it is commonly observed in teenagers, this medical condition can happen to men and women of any age. In fact, it is believed that four out of every 10 people may have sleep paralysis. It may also be a hereditary condition that runs in the family.
The other causes of sleep paralysis may include:
  • Insomnia or sleep deprivation
  • Sleep schedule that changes
  • Jet lag
  • Sudden environmental or lifestyle changes
  • Mental conditions such as stress or bipolar disorder
  • Sleeping on the back
  • Use of certain medications
  • Substance abuse
In addition to these symptoms, sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy. This is a medical condition used to describe an overpowering need to sleep, caused by the inability of the brain to regulate sleep.
Most people do not need to be treated. An underlying medical condition like narcolepsy when medically treated, may help you when you are anxious or unable to sleep well. In addition to this, you may want to try out treatments such as:
  • Improving sleep habits and making sure you get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Antidepressant medication may be prescribed to regulate sleep cycles
  • Treating any underlying mental health problems
  • Treating any other sleep disorders
Did you know that sleep paralysis has a number of names, like the "old hag" in Newfoundland, "kokma" in the West Indies (for a ghost baby who jumps on the sleeper's chest and attacks the throat), "kanashibari" in Japan, and "gui ya" or ghost pressure in China.
Although it might be fanciful to associate the experiences and symptoms with evil spirits and aliens, but this is a normal medical condition. To control this disorder, make sure to get enough sleep and re-establish the normal REM patterns. Also, try to relieve stress, especially just before bedtime, and try new sleeping positions if you sleep on your back.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.