25 Facts About Sleep Paralysis That Make It Scary

Posted by , Updated on January 17, 2024

Sleep paralysis is a very strange condition in which you feel like you are awake but cannot move. It happens when you are between the stages of wakefulness and sleep, and there are people who describe the whole experience as being awake in a horrifying nightmare. If you are one of those unlucky people who have ever experienced sleep paralysis, then you definitely know how awful this disorder can be. But is sleep paralysis something new? The answer is no. Myths and legends about sleep paralysis have existed for centuries all across the globe and symptoms of sleep paralysis have been described in many ways and often attributed to an evil presence. Almost every culture throughout history has had stories of shadowy evil creatures terrifying helpless humans at night. People have tried for years to logically explain this mysterious phenomenon and the accompanying feelings of terror, but most of these attempts have been unsuccessful since they attribute it to the supernatural. Only recently has science managed to more closely examine the causes and interpretations of sleep paralysis from both a scientific and cultural perspective. So what do you say? Want to know more about this bizarre, terrifying, but ultimately harmless sleep disorder? If the answer is yes, then check out these 25 Facts About Sleep Paralysis That Make It Scary.

Don’t let sleep paralysis steal your sleep. Check out these 25 Dream Facts Which Might Help You Sleep Better for some cool facts about dreams and an overall good sleep.




Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes.

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Many sufferers describe sleep paralysis like they have woken up dead. They suggest that your mind wakes up but your body doesn’t, so you essentially feel trapped inside your body and unable to move.

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According to science there are two types of sleep paralysis: isolated sleep paralysis, or ISP, where sufferers will experience sleep paralysis once or twice in their lives, and recurrent isolated sleep paralysis, or RISP, where a person will experience several episodes during their lifetime.

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RISP is more intense because it can last up to an hour and it can be accompanied by an out-of-body experience.

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Most people who suffer from sleep paralysis have said they feel like something or someone is in the room with them (during an episode) or like they have actually seen or heard something as well. Pretty scary experience now that I think about it.

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Sleep paralysis occurs twice as often to men than women.

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The good news is that SP is less common in the general population than was previously thought. A 1999 study in Germany indicated that the disorder is often associated with a mental disorder.

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The bad news, however, is that when SP occurs you can’t wake yourself up. You might be able to move your toes or do facial expressions but you can’t fully wake up and unfortunately you will have to wait it out.

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Many people wrongly connect sleep paralysis with night terrors when in reality they are completely different from each other. A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but with a far more dramatic presentation.

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One theory on sleep paralysis suggests that the phenomenon is a result of REM sleep disruption where the body is still in a state of muscle atonia, which prevents a dreamer from acting out their dreams.

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Sleep paralysis tends to first appear during adolescence and happens more frequently in your twenties and thirties. It rarely continues after that time but can still occur.

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Science suggests that sleep paralysis can be a sign of a more dangerous sleep disorder: narcolepsy (a chronic neurological disorder involving the loss of the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally).

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Dream expert Robert Moss introduced us to a new “kind” of sleep paralysis: a typical SP incident that was also extremely and disturbingly sexual in which a hag appeared to him in his sleep and he couldn’t move.

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Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation and exhaustion can “help” you experience sleep paralysis among other sleep disorders.

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There’s no doubt that an episode of sleep paralysis for the vast majority of people is a terrifying and extremely negative experience; however, there have been a few people who described the whole thing as very pleasant and enjoyable. To each his own, I guess.

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Science reassures us that no matter how intense the symptoms and experiences might be, sleep paralysis is not dangerous and can’t kill you. It does not cause physical harm and there are no clinical deaths known to date.

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Stress, depression, certain prescription medications, and, more recently, an inherited gene have all been linked to sleep paralysis but in actuality no definitive cause has been linked to the phenomenon.

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Various studies have shown that when you sleep on your back you’re more likely to experience sleep paralysis.

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Users of anxiolytic medication (medications to control anxiety) are nearly five times as likely to report SP.

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During an interview Kurt Cobain (lead singer of Nirvana) once claimed he suffered from both sleep paralysis and narcolepsy.

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The first recorded cases of sleep paralysis can be found in Persian medical texts going back to the tenth century. The first clinical observation was made by a Dutch physician in 1664 who diagnosed a fifty-year-old woman with “nightmares.” It was believed to be caused by demons or possession until the nineteenth century, when it was termed “sleep palsy” and eventually “sleep paralysis” in medical texts.

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Some skeptics also suggest that SP and the hallucinations that accompany them, which are usually out of cultural narratives, could scientifically explain what many people have described as demons sitting on their chests while sleeping or during a religious “vision.”

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The Swiss painter Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare is believed to have been inspired by the growing interest in sleep paralysis among doctors at the time. The scary little monster may represent the sensation of chest pressure that SP sufferers often mention as a symptom.

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According to a 2005 study published by the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, some scientists speculate that sleep paralysis is the reason some individuals believe they’ve been abducted by aliens who seemingly materialize in their room despite doors and windows being locked.

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In the 1940s some scientists believed waking up to be a time of sexual arousal and that, therefore, sleep paralysis occurred to repress the libidinous drive.

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