What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a rare but well-known phenomenon and describes the condition in which we wake up from sleep at night as if paralyzed. But what exactly happens during sleep paralysis and what causes our mind to wake up but the body is still asleep?

Table of Contents

      1. What is sleep paralysis?
      2. How does sleep paralysis occur?
      3. Causes & triggers of sleep paralysis
      4. Is sleep paralysis dangerous?
      5. Help & Tips
      6. Conclusion

      1. What is sleep paralysis?

      Sleep paralysis is a rarer sleep disorder, also known as sleep paralysis or sleep paralysis, which usually occurs immediately after falling asleep or shortly before waking up. It describes a paralysis-like condition that is accompanied by a temporary loss of muscle control. Those affected then suddenly wake up from sleep but, despite being fully conscious, are unable to control their muscles, move, speak or otherwise react for a short time. The unpleasant inability to move is often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations as well as feelings of fear or shortness of breath. Sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and is usually an unpleasant but harmless phenomenon. According to surveys, up to 30% of people have experienced waking up at night and lying wide awake but rigid in bed with nightmare-like hallucinations.

      2. How does sleep paralysis occur?

      In sleep paralysis, the transition between sleep and wakefulness is disrupted, which happens particularly easily towards the end of a sleep cycle. Our brain is particularly active during the REMsleep phases - we dream and process important information and experiences. To protect us from uncontrolled movements and injuries during vivid dreaming, our brain blocks the transmission of muscle commands during this time and puts our body into a temporary “rigidity”. Sleep paralysis itself is actually a harmless and natural protective mechanism of our body that occurs every night for a certain period of time and usually goes unnoticed.

      smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Schlafphasen und Wachphasen im Verlauf eines Schlafzyklus

      But if we experience sleep paralysis, we wake up in the transition between dream sleep and waking state exactly when our body is actually still asleep and the brain is still dreaming. In this mixed state of wakefulness and REM sleep, we are consciously aware of the unusual inability to move and experience dream-like hallucinations. Then all we can do is wait until we fully wake up from sleep and can move again.

      3. Causes and triggers of sleep paralysis

      What exactly can lead us to an incorrect or It is not yet known whether people are torn out of their natural sleep structure and awaken at an inappropriate time. However, researchers suspect that some factors can promote the occurrence of sleep paralysis. These include, among other things, narcolepsy, also known as “sleeping sickness”, stress, a disturbed or irregular sleep-wake rhythm, mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders or depression or even sleeping on your back.

      4. Is sleep paralysis dangerous?

      Don't worry! Even though it feels extremely uncomfortable and frightening, a single occurrence of sleep paralysis is usually harmless. The paralysis of the muscles occurs naturally and disappears quickly when we fully wake up or go back to sleep. And the frequently described shortness of breath, feelings of pressure or palpitations shouldn't worry you, because breathing and heartbeat continue to be regulated automatically.

      If such an experience occurs frequently or if you have serious illnesses, you should get to the bottom of the exact cause. Because a disturbed sleep structure and frequent awakenings also prevent sufficient regeneration at night and cause long-term damage to our health and the quality of our sleep.

      5. Help & tips against sleep paralysis

      smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Das passiert bei einer Schlafparalyse

      Waking up with frightening dream images, heart palpitations or shortness of breath and not being able to move can quickly cause fear or panic in most people. During sleep paralysis we are also unable to call for help or draw attention to ourselves, which can be very frightening and uncomfortable. So how should we behave if we wake up at night feeling paralyzed and what can we do to prevent it so that we don't end up in the horrible situation of sleep paralysis in the first place?

      During sleep paralysis: Stay calm

      The most important thing when experiencing sleep paralysis is to remain calm and understand why the body is not responding as usual at the moment. It's best to try to focus on calm breathing and remember that you are in a natural body state and will be able to move freely again in a few moments.

      Preventive: Good sleep hygiene & regulated sleep rhythm

      So that your sleep runs optimally and the change between the important sleep phases is not disturbed, you should of course, in addition to healthy sleep hygiene, pay attention to a regular sleep-wake rhythm and to get enough sleep overall. You can find tips on this, among other things here in the sleep magazine. Make a targeted effort to reduce stress and avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially in the evening. According to scientists, it can also help to avoid lying on your back and, if possible, sleep on your side or stomach.

      6. Conclusion

      • Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder in which those affected wake up from sleep and experience a paralysis-like state with dream-like hallucinations.
      • In sleep paralysis, the transition between REM sleep (dream sleep) and wakefulness is disrupted.
      • Possible causes of sleep paralysis include an irregular sleep-wake rhythm, stress, psychological disorders or sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
      • Good sleep hygiene and a regulated sleep rhythm help to prevent sleep paralysis and promote healthy sleep.

      Greetings and see you soon!

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