30 Jan Take control of your sleep: 7 ways to stop sleep paralysis from ruining your nights.
Reviewed by: Tana Bao MSN, NP-C, RN
For those who have experienced sleep paralysis, you will know that it is one of the most frightening things that can happen. Whether you have an episode once a week or once a month, it is equally as awful every single time.
While it is estimated that up to 7.6% percent of people1 will experience sleep paralysis at least once in their life, for many it is a recurring theme in their night that can hinder their sleep and their mental health. This article is going to take a look at everything you need to know about this condition and ways that can help you finally get a peaceful night’s sleep on a regular basis.
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that causes a person to feel awake and completely paralyzed2. A paralysis episode will occur as someone is falling asleep, or just as they are waking up. During this state, you cannot move or speak, and it is frequently accompanied by hallucinations, such as someone being in the room or standing over you, and feelings of pressure, especially on your chest.
Imagine having a nightmare where you not only feel like it is real, but you cannot move or speak and are completely powerless to whatever is happening around you. This helplessness during such a vulnerable state is what makes sleep paralysis so terrifying for anyone who experiences it, and in extreme cases, it can even cause people to be scared about falling asleep in the first place.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis happens when your brain starts to wake up but your body is still asleep – it causes a crossover where your body and brain are trying to do two conflicting things at once3. There is no definitive answer as to what causes some people to experience it and others to not, but it has been shown to be more common in people who already suffer from other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or insomnia, and in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety and panic disorders.
How to Stop Sleep Paralysis?
Because there is no outright cure you might feel helpless in trying to treat it; however, there are a few things you can do to give yourself a better chance at reducing the frequency or even intensity of the episodes you experience.
1. Treat Pre-Existing Conditions
If you have some kind of anxiety or panic disorder, PTSD, or sleep disorder like insomnia, then do everything you can to better manage it. Perhaps this will mean speaking to your doctor and getting medication, or seeking out a therapist who can help you work through the reasons for your struggles. Gaining some control or relief from these types of conditions will go a long way to combat sleep paralysis.
2. Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
Repeating an irregular sleep schedule such as staying up late one night and sleeping too much the next can have an effect on the frequency of sleep paralysis episodes. Get into a good routine of not only sleeping 7-8 hours a night but sticking to the same bedtime every night as well.
Exercise is one of the solutions to many sleep conditions, and sleep paralysis is no exception. Having a regular exercise routine of around 30-60 minutes a day will help you sleep better and make it easier to keep a good sleep schedule, but it can also help offer some relief from stress and anxiety disorders.
4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals close to bedtime
These can disrupt your sleep and increase the risk of sleep paralysis. Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with your sleep by making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s best to avoid consuming caffeine within several hours of your bedtime.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it can also disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to sleep paralysis. It’s best to avoid consuming alcohol close to bedtime.
Heavy meals can also disrupt your sleep by causing discomfort or heartburn. It’s best to avoid consuming heavy meals close to bedtime. Instead, try to have a light snack or drink before bed to help you sleep.
5. Practice relaxation techniques before bed
Relaxing before bed can help stop sleep paralysis by reducing stress and promoting relaxation, which can make it easier to fall asleep and reduce the likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis. It also puts you into a better mental state before bed, which may carry over into sleep, allowing you to get a better night’s sleep.
6. Create a comfortable sleeping environment
Creating a comfortable sleep environment can help stop sleep paralysis by promoting relaxation and making it easier to fall asleep. When we sleep, our bodies and minds need to be able to relax in order to enter the different stages of sleep. A comfortable sleep environment can help create a sense of calm and reduce stimulation, which can make it easier for the body and mind to relax and fall asleep.
On the other hand, an uncomfortable or stimulating sleep environment can make it more difficult to relax and fall asleep, which can increase the likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis occurs when the body is in a state of relaxation (during sleep) but the mind is still active and aware. If it is difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep due to an uncomfortable or stimulating sleep environment, the mind may be more likely to remain active and aware, increasing the risk of sleep paralysis.
By creating a comfortable sleep environment, you may be able to relax more easily and fall asleep more quickly, which can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis.
7. Remind Yourself You Are Safe
In the midst of a sleep paralysis episode all reasoning seems to go out the window, and no matter how many times it happens you immediately forget that everything is, in reality, okay. Remind yourself regularly that if it does happen, everything will be okay in the end, and if possible, try your hardest to tell yourself this as it is happening – some people have reported being able to get themselves out of the paralysis state by internally talking themselves through exactly what is actually happening.
Is Sleep Paralysis Serious?
Even though suffering from sleep paralysis can affect your sleep and be a great cause of anxiety in some people, overall it is accepted that it is not a serious condition. There are studies ongoing about if there are any long term effects for anyone who has frequent episodes, but for now the fact that it is not considered serious is a small piece of comfort that people can take away from the studies conducted so far. However, if the problem persists to the point where it is affecting your mental health or daily life, then you should absolutely speak to your doctor.
Sleep paralysis can leave you feeling helpless and vulnerable, however, by putting into practice the recommended steps, you should hopefully see an improvement in your sleep. Above all, be patient and never feel embarrassed if you need to reach out for help; your mental health is always a priority.
Source 1 – Percentage of population who’ve experienced sleep paralysis:
Source 2 – What is sleep paralysis:
Source 3 – Causes of sleep paralysis:
About the Author
Jennifer Hardy, SleepingBetter.co
Jennifer is a stay at home mom with 2 kids, who is an active contributor to SleepingBetter.co. She has been researching sleep science for years and is all about creating the perfect sleep sanctuary for herself because she knows how powerful good sleep can be on your health and beauty. She loves reviewing everything from comfortable pillows to the best mattresses.