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Can Anxiety Cause Sleep Paralysis

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The Brain During Sleep Paralysis

According to Dr. Roth of Cleveland Health Clinic, Sleep Paralysis occurs when your brain moves through the stages of sleep but experiences a misstep when it transitions from one stage to the other, particularly between REM sleep and wakefulness. 

REM sleep is particularly relevant to this condition because this is the stage where we dream and when our brains are most active. Brain activity during this stage is often significantly lively compared to previous stages and will appear almost as though you’re awake.


In this mentally active stage, to protect ourselves from acting out whatever is occurring in our dreams, our bodies incite paralysis using glycine. Sleep paralysis happens when there’s a transitional disruption between REM sleep and consciousness, making it so you’re at least semi-conscious, but the protective paralysis prevents movement or has yet to subside.

Common Sensations of Sleep Paralysis

Occasionally individuals experience heavy chest pressure and difficulty breathing. These symptoms could be attributed to the way the body shifts into shallow, rhythmic breaths during REM sleep, which is unlike how you breathe when you’re awake. As your brain suddenly becomes aware of your experience, you might try to control your breath and find that you cannot, leading to feelings of panic, chest pressure, or the inability to inhale deeply.



Medical And Mental Problems

Others worry that another medical or mental health problem may be to blame. The list of potential medical maladies that might explain the experience of sleep paralysis is diverse, ranging from seizures to heart attacks to strokes. Some even think that they have died.

Still, other people worry that they have gone insane and do not discuss it because they are worried about how others might react to their experience. The episode of sleep paralysis is self-limited, without lasting consequences, and so these explanations are proven to be false.

Can You Die From Sleep Paralysis

The sheer terror that people experience when going through sleep paralysis symptoms has led to some rather pressing questions about the condition.

If you’ve ever encountered the state between wake and sleep before, then you may have asked yourself the following:

“Can you die from sleep paralysis?” The simple answer to that question is no.

On its own, sleep paralysis isn’t dangerous at all. As horrifying as it might be to wake up feeling trapped, there’s nothing sleep paralysis will do to your body to increase your risk of illness or death.

However, it’s worth noting that the symptoms of sleep paralysis may be an indicator you’re experiencing other underlying conditions that need checking out.

If you’re dealing with frequent sleep paralysis problems, it’s a good idea to go and see a doctor.

Sleep Paralysis Causes And Prevention

2 Minute Read

Medically Reviewed by Sleep Medicine

April 12, 2015

In the wee hours of the morning, you wake suddenly from sleep, overcome by a strange feeling of dread. You’re sure there’s an intruder in your bedroom and spot a terrifying creature at the end of your bed.

Yet you can’t move a muscle — or even scream. It may sound like something out of a horror flick, but this experience, known as sleep paralysis, is a very real phenomenon. While harmless, this problem can be very frightening and the fear of having an episode may interfere with a good night’s sleep.

How To Stop Anxiety And Panic

Can Stress Cause Sleep Paralysis?

Of course, even if you reduce the frequency of your nighttime panic attacks, you are still going to find yourself suffering if you continue to deal with panic disorder. That’s why you need to make sure that you find the appropriate long term treatment for reducing the frequency and severity of your panic attacks and doing whatever it takes to prevent them from coming back.

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Accounts Of Sleep Paralysis Demons And Evil Presences

Similarly to how sleep paralysis happens when there’s a disruption in the transition between sleep stages, it’s also possible to have your sleep cycle interrupted in a way that you interpret dream-like hallucinations as actual occurrences.

According to Dr. Roth of Cleveland Health Clinic, “these hallucinations aren’t dreams,” rather, you’re conscious, but suspended between sleep and wakefulness in an unusual overlap. These hallucinations aren’t necessarily visual. They could be auditory, olfactory, kinetic, or tactile.

Many cultures contain ancient accounts of these “demons,” and they’re not necessarily easy to recollect. Sometimes it’s an unsettling or scary feeling of knowing something is in the room, appearing as a kinetic hallucination. According to Dr. Roth, many individuals who experience hallucinations also experience sleep paralysis, and it’s difficult to predict why or when it occurs. 


Sleep paralysis is a condition that many experts still don’t fully understand. However, the more we know, the better we may be at preventing an occurrence and keeping ourselves calm in an episode.

Known Sleep Deprivation Effects

As it happens, the consequences of insomnia introduce yet another relationship between sleep and anxiety.

In otherwise healthy people, the lack of sleep can cause more than just the need for an extra cup of coffee. According to scientific evidence, long-term insomnia causes several physical and mental problems:

  • Impairments in physical functions
  • Extended pain
  • Emotional problems
  • Mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety

The reviewed evidence reveals the bifunctional relationship between sleep-deprivation and the occurrence of mental health issues.

How To Diagnose Sleep Paralysis

Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis is fairly common. In most cases, it does not affect your sleep or overall health. Talk to your doctor if episodes of sleep paralysis make you anxious. You should see a sleep doctor if the episodes keep you up at night or make you very tired during the day.

The doctor will need to know when the sleep paralysis started. She will want to know how often it occurs and how long it lasts. The doctor will need to know your complete medical history. Be sure to inform her of any past or present drug and medication use.

Also, tell your doctor if you have ever had any other sleep disorder. Find out if you have any family members with sleep problems. It will also be helpful if you fill out a sleep diary for two weeks. The sleep diary will help the doctor see your sleeping patterns. This data gives the doctor clues about what is causing your problem and how to correct it.

Doctors do not need any tests to treat most patients with recurrent isolated sleep paralysis. Your doctor may have you do a sleep study if your problem is disturbing your sleep or they suspect an additional sleep disorder. This study is called polysomnography. It charts your brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing while you sleep. It also records how your arms and legs move. An electromyogram recording will show the level of electrical activity in your muscles. This level will be very low during an episode of sleep paralysis.

What Causes Sleeping Panic Attacks

Even though the panic attack is said to occur while you sleep, the idea that it’s a “sleeping panic attack” may be a little misleading. It’s very difficult to sleep throughout the course of these panic attacks, and the actual attack usually wakes you up, causing significant fear and disorientation.

There are many possible causes of panic attacks, generally speaking. Often, panic attacks during the day are caused by an interaction between your bodily sensations and your thoughts. During the night, however, this might not necessarily be the trigger, given that you’re somewhat disconnected from your bodily and mental processes. There are, however, additional issues that may affect those who suffer from nocturnal panic attacks. These issues include:

Is Sleep Paralysis Life

While sleep paralysis is certainly scary, it is not life-threatening. What’s more life-threatening is sleep deprivation, which can stem from disturbed sleep caused by these episodes. If sleep paralysis is impeding your nightly rest and causing chronic daytime fatigue, you should talk with your doctor about possible solutions for easing stress and getting better rest.

Can Someone Wake You Up During Sleep Paralysis

Someone may be able to somewhat wake you, but it may not be enough to completely snap you out of the sleep paralysis episode. Many still experience temporary paralysis upon waking. While waking somebody from a night terror might seem like the right and helpful thing to do, doing so usually doesn’t help. In fact, it may make the sleep paralysis worse, causing further disorientation, confusion, and fear.

Discuss Your Concerns With A Therapist

A therapist can also help individuals dealing with somniphobia, and some medical doctors may recommend therapy as an initial form of treatment before prescribing any medications. According to Sleep Health Solutions, exposure therapy, relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy are forms of treatment for sleep anxiety.

What Sleep Paralysis Feels Like


Sleep paralysis is experienced differently from person to person; however, its core symptoms are consistent for most people.

During sleep paralysis episodes, you cannot speak or move, as your body is in a physiological state that prohibits movement even though your mind is awake. Being aware or awake when your body is unable to move can naturally cause you to hyperventilate and hallucinate.

Sleepers who experience these episodes can hear sounds or smell odors. Oftentimes, these hallucinations have a sinister context, such as approaching footsteps or smell odors akin to something decomposing.

If you find yourself in one of these episodes, remember, sleep paralysis is temporary and lasts no more than a few minutes.

Factors Contributing To Sleep Paralysis

New research investigates possible factors that contribute to sleep paralysis—and the results indicate that genetics may play a significant role. Scientists in the United Kingdom examined the role of heredity in sleep paralysis among a group of 862 twins and siblings. The participants were young adults between the ages 22 and 32, all of whom were enrolled in the Genesis 12-19 study, a long-term, ongoing UK-based investigation of genetics and development.

To pinpoint the role that heredity might play, researchers compared data on sleep and the incidence of sleep paralysis for identical twins to data involving non-identical twins and siblings. Identical twins carry almost exactly the same DNA, while non-identical twins and siblings have roughly 50% of DNA in common. Their analysis found that genetics was a factor in 53% of cases of sleep paralysis among their subjects.

Researchers examined this genetic link more closely by looking at variants of a gene that is involved in control of circadian rhythms, the 24-hour biological rhythms that help to govern sleep-wake cycles. They discovered that people with certain variations of the PER2 gene were more likely to have experienced sleep paralysis. The study also found people with disrupted sleep, as well as people who experienced anxiety, stressful or traumatic events were more likely to suffer episodes of sleep paralysis.

Characteristics Of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis can occur for a number of reasons. There have been major links between this condition and narcolepsy, indicating that a larger sleep disorder is at play. It could also be linked to clinical depression, hypertension, and stress.

During sleep paralysis, there is a disruption of the REM cycle, causing the body to alternate between REM and NREM moments. Sleep paralysis indicates the moment when features of REM sleep are still happening even when we are waking up. This includes the inability to move your muscles or your body. It has many causes, but sleep disruption is the biggest contributor to sleep paralysis as a symptom.

What Are The Types Of Sleep Paralysis

In the medical literature, two terms are commonly used to categorize cases of sleep paralysis.

  • Isolated sleep paralysis is when the episodes are not connected to an underlying diagnosis of , a neurological disorder that prevents the brain from properly controlling wakefulness and often leads to sleep paralysis.
  • Recurrent sleep paralysis involves multiple episodes over time.

In many cases, these two defining characteristics are combined to describe a condition of recurrent isolated sleep paralysis , which involves ongoing instances of sleep paralysis in someone who does not have narcolepsy.

The Definition Of Sleep Paralysis: A Waking Nightmare

If the idea of waking up and not being able to move wasn’t frightening enough, many people refer to sleep paralysis as “waking up dead.”

Don’t worry — it’s not as bad as it sounds.

The definition of sleep paralysis is: “A condition when you’re temporarily paralysed after falling asleep.”

Because you can’t move or speak, it feels as though you have no control over your body. You’re just a spirit looking out from behind a stoic shell.

While that sounds like the stuff of nightmares, sleep paralysis isn’t technically the same as being asleep and having a bad dream.

However, you’re not completely awake either.

You’re stuck in the state between wake and sleep. Your body is still flooded with the chemicals intended to keep you paralysed, when you’re getting your sleep.

The good news?

While sleep paralysis symptoms are creepy — they’re not dangerous. No-one has ever died from sleep paralysis .

So, if it’s not harmful, why is sleep paralysis so scary?

Well, one of the most common symptoms of sleep paralysis is hallucinations. Your mind is hyper-aware during this state between waking and sleep.

Because of this it will often attempt to fill in the blanks with visions and sensations that commonly happen during a nightmare.

Your brain is panicking, so it gives you a reason to be scared. Some people report seeing disturbing or ghostly figures hovering around their bedside — all while they’re unable to move.

Explaining The Deep Relationship Between Anxiety And Sleep

Imagine going to bed joyfully fatigued. You comfortably hug your pillow as you leave the day behind. And then you rest, calmly and refreshingly. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, such a scenario is less likely to happen if you have anxiety and sleep issues. Or maybe it was just a hard night?

Well, hard nights come and go—the problem is when they stick with us. Sleep deprivation can cause us to feel irritated and chronically tired.

Up to 18% of healthy adults have chronic insomnia, and 31.2% of adult Americans experience symptoms of anxiety. As it happens, these two are interrelated by more than just numbers. We set out to examine this connection and establish causality. As we dove deep into the research, certain patterns emerged. Read on, and see what we’ve concluded.

Treatment Of Nightmare Disorder

Often underdetected and untreated, nightmare disorder can persist for decades. However, several medications and other nonmedication treatments are available for nightmare disorder. For nightmares associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, prazosin 1–3 mg at bedtime has been shown to be beneficial and is considered the first-line treatment. Prazosin has a long history of being used for the treatment of PTSD and PTSD-associated nightmares. It is a centrally acting alpha 1-adrenergic receptor antagonist. Raskind first observed its utility for PTSD-related nightmares and it was then extensively used until unexpectedly large multicenter trials failed to show any effect of prazosin compared to placebo . Since then, a position paper by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has highlighted a contradictory study and downgraded its recommendation for prazosin, but still considers it to be the first-line pharmacological choice . This is supported by a recent meta-analysis confirming that prazosin does have a statistically significant benefit on PTSD symptoms and sleep disturbances.

Nonmedication treatment of nightmare disorder should also target maladaptive beliefs, which include ruminating and catastrophizing of nightmares and their consequences. Psychodynamic approaches focus on the particular meaning of a nightmare, but other treatment approaches do not take meaning into account .

Overwhelming Fear And Dread

People often feel afraid during a sleep paralysis episode. The fear can stem from realizing they are immobile or another symptom of sleep atonia.

Sometimes these feelings are too intense, and people struggle to comprehend them. These feelings of fear may follow individuals into wakefulness and progress into a sense of foreboding connected to sleep.

Isps And Fisps Relation To Ptsd

Sleep paralysis: what are the causes and how to avoid it ...

Individuals with PTSD were significantly more likely to have recurrent FISP than those without, ?2 = 11.94, p< .004. Although only 17 participants met PTSD criteria, 6 of these also met recurrent FISP criteria, and comprised 42.9% of the total recurrent FISP sample. Similar results were evidenced with the lifetime FISP episode group, ?2 = 6.47, p< .02, but not the lifetime ISP episode group .

Is Sleep Paralysis A Symptom Of A Serious Problem

Sleep researchers conclude that, in most cases, sleep paralysis is simply a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. Rarely is sleep paralysis linked to deep underlying psychiatric problems.

Over the centuries, symptoms of sleep paralysis have been described in many ways and often attributed to an “evil” presence: unseen night demons in ancient times, the old hag in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and alien abductors. Almost every culture throughout history has had stories of shadowy evil creatures that terrify helpless humans at night. People have long sought explanations for this mysterious -time paralysis and the accompanying feelings of terror.



What Is The Outcome

Sleep paralysis does not cause any long-term problems. Many people only experience sleep paralysis once or twice in their lifetime.

Episodes of sleep paralysis tend to become less frequent as you get older and they usually disappear. However, sometimes the sleep paralysis seems to have resolved but further episodes may then start again.

What Triggers Sleep Paralysis

Stress, sleep deprivation, jet lag, and an inconsistent sleep schedule can trigger sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis does occur most commonly during adolescence, and if you’re somebody younger who experiences sleep paralysis, it may have more to do with puberty than with actual triggers. However, if you’re in your teens and older, there may be an underlying cause of sleep paralysis.

Sleep Stages & Paralysis

During REM, the body goes into a state of paralysis known as REM atonia. This is a normal part of the sleep stage, when major muscle groups and most voluntary muscles are paralyzed. One important function of this paralysis may be to protect the body from injury during sleep. REM is a sleep stage when much active dreaming occurs. Without the paralyzing effects of REM atonia, we might act out physically in response to our dreams. In certain sleep disorders, including REM Behavior Disorder, the normal paralysis of REM sleep doesn’t work as it should, and people act out physically—sometimes aggressively and violently—in sleep.

Sleep scientists believe that sleep paralysis may occur when the transitions in and out of REM sleep and other sleep stages don’t go smoothly. The paralysis that is typically confined to REM sleep spills over to other sleep stages—and if you wake, you become aware of your body’s paralysis, and the frightening feeling of being unable to move or to speak. Sleep paralysis may also include hallucinations. People often describe feeling a ghost-like presence in the room with them, as well as feelings of terror and foreboding. These hallucinations can include strange sounds and even smells, along with sensations of falling or flying. Although the mechanisms of breathing aren’t impaired by sleep paralysis, people sometimes feel breathless, and often feel a weighty pressure on the chest. The experience of it can be terrifying, especially the first time it occurs.

Do Parasomnias Occur In Children

Yes. Parasomnias are more common in children than in adults. Non-REM sleep disorders are more common in children than REM disorders. The most common parasomnias in children under the age of 15 are:

  • Confusional arousal.
  • Neurological disease, including Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, stroke, multiple system atrophy, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, , and .

How To Calm Anxiety And Get Better Sleep

Although the impacts of anxiety disorders can be substantial, they are one of the most treatable mental health disorders. This doesn’t mean that reducing anxiety is always simple, but there are treatments that can help.

Any person who has persistent or significant anxiety and/or sleeping problems should talk with a doctor who can best assess their situation and discuss the benefits and downsides of the potential treatment options in their case.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common treatment for anxiety disorders. It is a type of talk therapy that works to reorient negative thinking, and it has had success in decreasing anxiety. Studies have found that CBT can often reduce anxiety even in people who have insomnia. Addressing anxiety can pave the way for better sleep, but severe cases of insomnia may persist after CBT for anxiety. CBT for insomnia may be a useful next step in these cases.

Several different types of medications are approved to treat anxiety disorders including anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. These medications are intended to mitigate symptoms rather than cure the underlying anxiety.

Because of the multifaceted relationship between anxiety and sleep, getting better rest may help combat feelings of anxiety. Building healthy sleep habits can make going to bed a more pleasant experience and facilitate a consistent routine to enhance sleep.

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Is It Common In Adults

Both children and adults can experience sleep anxiety. However, with kids, they may be scared of thing such as the dark or imaginary monsters. In this case, experts say parents can help by not building up fears, introducing a night light, avoiding scary tv shows or movies, or providing a comfort object such as a blanket or stuffed toy.

The Use Of Cbd Oil For Sleep And Anxiety

Sleep paralysis linked to anxiety, stress and depression ...

The scientific community is researching cannabis more than ever. In the last decade, copious amounts of evidence have emerged testifying in favor of using cannabidiol for sleep.

According to the evidence, CBD oil has powerful anxiolytic and sleep-maintaining properties. Additionally, CBD oil aids immune function, helps relieve chronic pain, and has neural disinhibiting effects.

There are various CBD-laced products on the market today in terms of potency, dosing, and the duration of effects. Choosing the best CBD product depends on the severity of the symptoms. In cases of sleep paralysis and sleep anxiety, a combination of CBD and melatonin could provide optimal results.

In general, the use of cannabis and its essential oil for sleep and anxiety has been documented for centuries. Now, as science urges us to procure the evidence for these unprecedented beneficial effects, we can only expect to soon see cannabis-infused products on our pharmacy’s shelves.

How To Cope With Frequent Sleep Paralysis Issues

While it’s challenging to from happening altogether, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

For instance, most experts will recommend focusing on the fundamentals of achieving healthier sleeping patterns.

You’ll need to maintain a regular sleep routine . You should avoid any stimulants that will keep you up at night. Eat well and have regular meals.

It’s also a good idea to seek out a therapist, if you have any issues with your mental health. Anxiety and depression are common sleep paralysis risk factors.

If you can get to the bottom of the things that are causing your fears and worries in your waking life, then you’ll have less frequent sleep paralysis.

If you do encounter the experience of waking up and not being able to move — the most essential thing that you can do is keep calm.

Ultimately, prevention is better than cure when it comes to sleep paralysis symptoms.

However, if you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re already in the throes of a paralysis session, you can attempt to cut the experience short by:

If you can, try to focus on positive thoughts rather than allowing yourself to fall completely into the state of fear. It will be easier to manage, if you experience paralysis and lucid dreaming regularly.

What You Should Know About Sleep Paralysis

While we usually think of being asleep or awake as clearly defined and distinct, conditions like sleep paralysis challenge these fixed boundaries.

Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move that occurs right after falling asleep or waking up. Individuals remain aware during episodes, which frequently involve troubling hallucinations and a sensation of suffocation.

These episodes of sleep paralysis involve elements of both sleep and wakefulness, which is part of why they can give rise to distressing symptoms.

While much is still unknown about sleep paralysis, a review of its types, symptoms, causes, impacts, and treatment can enable a better understanding of the condition and how to try to prevent it.

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