The Terrors of Sleep Paralysis

Rori Hornung
2 min readFeb 15, 2021

You might have heard of sleep paralysis before, a frightening condition that causes the temporary loss of muscle function while you’re sleeping. It affects more people than you’d think, with researchers estimating that anywhere from 5 to 40 percent of people experience sleep paralysis, and the first episode typically occurs around ages 14–17.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

There are three different times sleep paralysis tends to happen: right before or after falling asleep, and as you are waking up. Or in other words, when you pass between the stages of wakefulness and sleep. The scary aspects of sleep paralysis are the terrifying symptoms people report. While you are awake during the few minute episodes, you are unable to move or speak. This becomes a problem if hallucinations start, such as feeling unable to breathe, paranoia, the feeling of choking or being held down, and fear of someone or something being in the room.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

There are also physical symptoms, none of which are pleasant either. They include sweating, muscle aches, and headaches. Episodes end on their own or when another person moves or touches you. So while they are short, the frightening and uncomfortable symptoms make sleep paralysis events something to pay attention to and prevent.

While some believe the condition is genetic, there are plenty of other explanations for it. Those factors can be a lack of or constant sleep schedule change, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, substance abuse, or even simply sleeping on your back. Unfortunately, the only treatments currently available for sleep paralysis are improving sleep habits and taking antidepressants to help with mood disorders that potentially have an influence on this condition.

Felson, S. (2020, October 17). Sleep paralysis — causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from

O’Connell, K. (2020, July 28). Sleep paralysis: Factors, symptoms & treatments. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from