“Waking Up Dead”: What Is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is by far one of the stranger phenomena out there. In fact, upon first hearing that it is possible to wake up completely unable to move you’d be forgiven for thinking its something straight from a horror movie.

Unfortunately for those who suffer from it, sleep paralysis is very real. So is it as bad as it sounds? And how exactly does it work?


What Is It?

Indeed, as the name suggests, sleep paralysis is a temporary sensation of being unable to move or speak which occurs usually at the beginning or end of your sleep cycle.

The simplest way to explain the feeling of sleep paralysis is that your brain is awake but your body isn’t, leaving you feeling trapped inside your body.

Unfortunately, it gets even creepier! Sleep paralysis can sometimes include hallucinations and because they occur when the eyes are open, sufferers can often see a spooky presence in their own bedroom!

Overall it can make for a pretty scary experience, and sufferers understandably wake up in a state of panic, with an increased heart rate and find it hard to get back to sleep.

But other than obviously being a very unsettling experience, thankfully sleep paralysis is relatively harmless, and only lasts a couple of seconds or minutes at most.

Sleep paralysis is hardly a new phenomenon, and people have been struggling with it for literally hundreds of years.

Accounts date back as far as the 10th century, when demons and evils spirits were thought to be the principal cause, possibly due to the creepy hallucinations we mentioned.

It was even immortalised in a famous painting by Renaissance painter Henry Fuseli in his work “The Nightmare”.


Why Does It Happen?

Having your muscles relax into this paralysed state is actually entirely normal when falling into a deep REM sleep and is called atonia.

This helps to protect your body from injuring itself while you’re asleep, and doing things like walking, talking or doing any other number of strange things in your sleep.

However, in the case of sleep paralysis, rather than being overly active, these muscles actually stay paralysed after the sufferer’s brain has become alert.

During the night we all fall into the state of REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep. Sleep paralysis occurs when the body is transitioning into or out of this state, when we are either waking up (hypnagogic paralysis) or falling asleep (hypnopompic paralysis).

While scientists have identified this as the period where paralysis is most likely to occur, they don’t yet know the exact reasons it does occur, but most sleep disorders can be attributed to stress and a lack of sleep.

Without wanting to panic you too much, sleep paralysis can happen to absolutely anyone.

But don’t panic yet, as it is a rare thing to happen regularly. In fact, a lot of the time an episode can go completely unnoticed, but figures do show that the condition is seen more in students and psychiatric patients.

If you do suffer from regular sleep paralysis try to ensure that you stick to a strict and sensible sleeping routine and make sure you stock up on essentials to make your sleeping environment as comfy as possible.

Despite the fact that it is relatively harmless, the almost paranormal nature of sleep paralysis has made it one of the more interesting facets of sleep science, and something we hope our Sleepy People customers are fortunate enough to never encounter!