What are the Causes of Sleep Paralysis?

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  • Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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A doctor will consider whether one of the causes of sleep paralysis apply when a patient is complaining of not being able to move or speak while trying to go to sleep or upon waking up. The physician will ask questions about the patient's work schedule and lifestyle to determine if a lack of sleep or the sleep position is a factor. The answers to other questions will reveal whether the patient is living with a mental illness that may be contributing to the condition. The doctor will also investigate other causes of sleep paralysis, such as substance abuse, medications or another sleep disorder are at play.

During a sleep paralysis episode, the patient is fully awake but has no control over his or her limbs. The individual is not even able to call out for help, which makes this type of event very scary for those affected by it. Some people report feeling like they are being choked during an episode, which may have given rise to legends about a hag or other paranormal entity attempting to steal a person's breath while they are asleep.


When investigating the causes of sleep paralysis, the doctor will gather some basic information about the patient's lifestyle and routine. This disorder has been linked to lack of sleep, and the doctor will want to find out how much rest the patient is getting. People who work various shifts and who have their sleep patterns disrupted are also at higher risk for sleep paralysis. Sleeping on one's back is another one of the causes of sleep of paralysis, and the treatment may involve adopting a different position during sleep.

Medications can affect the quality of a patient's sleep, and the doctor will need to know about everything the patient is taking to rule out drugs as one of the causes of sleep paralysis. The patient should tell his or her doctor about all substances, including illegal ones, that he or she is taking, since this information will help to uncover the reason for the sleep paralysis.

If none of the causes of sleep paralysis listed above apply, the doctor will consider whether a mental illness or another sleep disorder is at play. People living with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience sleep paralysis, and the doctor will ask about family history in addition to asking questions about the patient's moods to make a diagnosis. Stress can also be a factor when trying to diagnose sleep paralysis, and the doctor will want to know about any changes, both positive and negative, that may have increased the patient's stress levels.


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Post 3

@Ana1234 - It's no wonder you sometimes get old stories or paintings where a demon sits on a person while they sleep if that is a common symptom. Imagine experiencing that back before there was any kind of medical reasoning behind it.

You basically couldn't even tell anyone about it, because they'd burn you at the stake.

Post 2

@MrsPramm - I had some friends who were on the same kind of medication and they both experienced sleeping paralysis. One of them thought of it as kind of scary but otherwise bearable. The other was absolutely terrified by it.

She thought it was a supernatural thing at first, because not only did she feel like she couldn't move, she also felt like there was a malevolent presence nearby that was going to hurt her if she didn't get away. I can understand why that might be terrifying.

But apparently it's fairly common for people showing sleep paralysis symptoms to feel that way, as they are still half asleep and it is a way of the brain trying to make sense of what is happening.

Post 1

The important thing to remember about sleep paralysis is that it's actually normal to some extent. Everyone is "paralyzed" while they are sleeping because that's how the brain ensures that the body isn't going to start wandering off under the influence of dreams.

The problem is that some people will wake up enough to realize they can't move before they wake up completely and stop being paralyzed.

If it happens a huge amount of times or just starts happening suddenly you might want to look into it as it could be a symptom of something else. But it might also just be a one-off event, so I wouldn't panic about it.

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