Sleep paralysis is when you cannot move or speak as you are waking up or falling asleep. It can be scary but it's harmless and most people will only get it once or twice in their life.
What happens during sleep paralysis
During sleep paralysis you may feel:
- awake but cannot move, speak or open your eyes
- like someone is in your room
- like something is pushing you down
These feelings can last up to several minutes.
Causes of sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis happens when you cannot move your muscles as you are waking up or falling asleep. This is because you are in sleep mode but your brain is active.
It's not clear why sleep paralysis can happen but it has been linked with:
- disrupted sleeping patterns – for example, because of shift work or jet lag
- narcolepsy – a long-term condition that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- generalised anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- a family history of sleep paralysis
Things you can do to help prevent sleep paralysis
You may be able to prevent sleep paralysis by changing your sleeping habits.
try to regularly get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day
go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
get regular exercise, but not in the 4 hours before going to bed
do not eat a big meal, smoke, or drink alcohol or caffeine shortly before going to bed
do not sleep on your back – this can make sleep paralysis more likely to happen
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
You often have sleep paralysis and you feel:
- very anxious or scared to go to sleep
- tired all the time due to lack of sleep
Treating sleep paralysis
A GP may be able to treat an underlying condition that could be triggering sleep paralysis such as insomnia or post-traumatic stress disorder.
If this does not help they might refer you to a doctor who specialises in sleep conditions.
Treatment from a specialist
You might be given medicine usually used to treat depression. Taking this type of medicine at a lower dose can also help with sleep paralysis.
You might also be referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Page last reviewed: 7 February 2023
Next review due: 7 February 2026