Have you ever woken up unable to speak or move? If so, you are most likely part of the 40 percent of people who have sleep paralysis. 1

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that causes the body’s ability to move and speak to be paralyzed while falling asleep or while waking up. The disorder occurs in both men and women and is most often discovered during the teen years. Sleep deprivation is typically the reason people develop sleep paralysis. Additionally, it is thought to run in families and be associated with narcolepsy.

There are two types of sleep paralysis: occurring when falling asleep (hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis) and occurring while waking up (hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis). 1 A “paralyzed” state occurs during REM sleep (when most vivid dreaming occurs), making the body unable to move. True sleep paralysis occurs in the stage between the sleeping and waking states. It is due to the body and mind shifting between REM sleep and NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement). If you wake up before the body shifts from REM (paralyzed sleep) to NREM sleep, you will likely experience sleep paralysis. 2

Sleep paralysis is commonly talked about in folklore and famous plays. While the concept and actualization of immobility and inability to speak is quite frightening, sleep paralysis does not usually last more than a minute at most. One individual recalled being in a state of sleep paralysis for 15 minutes after working a night shift five nights a week for eight months. 2 This further confirms that getting the adequate amount of sleep can benefit the quality of rest you have.

The first term for sleep paralysis was “nightmare” derived from the idea that a creature (called a mare) would come and sit on people in their sleep. Upon awakening, the “victim” would be terrified and unable to move as if something were sitting on his or her chest. This is referred to in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The disorder does not typically require treatment, but can be linked to other disorders that may be treated such as narcolepsy or bipolar disorder. Other treatment methods involve simply improving sleep hygiene by insuring you get the adequate amount of sleep, sleeping in a comfortable environment and watching what you eat or drink before bed.


1. WebMD—Sleep Paralysis; http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis?page=2

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.