Is Sleep Paralysis Dangerous?

If you’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis or even heard a story about someone who has, it might be easy to believe that sleep paralysis is a dangerous occurrence. For those who experience it, it can undoubtedly be a terrifying and undesirable state. On the other hand, some of those who understand sleep paralysis sometimes try to induce it because they are interested in lucid dreaming or want to have an “out-of-body” experience.

So what’s the deal with sleep paralysis? Is it dangerous? There are even wild rumors of sleep paralysis deaths. Can sleep paralysis cause death? We’ll take a closer look at the phenomenon to find out how true these claims are. First, we will define sleep paralysis and examine its causes.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Is Sleep Paralysis Dangerous

This is Your Mind On Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is an often disturbing sleep disorder. Basically, your mind and body play tricks on you so that you consciously experience (while asleep) the inability to move. This fear of paralysis is usually combined with (and worsened by) visions of demons, aliens, ghosts, or other dark and menacing entities. Often, the sleeper gets the sensation that this entity is putting pressure on the sleeper’s chest, increasing the sense of danger. The experience can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes—but to the dreamer, it can feel quite a bit longer.

Doesn’t sound normal, does it? Well, surprisingly, it is….sort of.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Believe it or not, the onset of sleep paralysis happens to all of us every night before we enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The process is called REM atonia, and it is a natural process that cuts off the electrical signals between your brain and your muscles so that your body doesn’t act out your dreams. This lack of muscle tension is essential and completely safe. Imagine if you acted out all of your dreams! Normally, you have no idea this is happening because you are already asleep. As soon as you do wake up, your sleep paralysis is turned off, and you go about your day as usual.

The sensation we know as sleep paralysis happens when the sleeping person becomes conscious of the REM atonia, and thus they feel the sensation of their muscles being either partially or completely paralyzed. Part of your mind is awake (so that the sleeper often really believes they are awake, accentuating the fear), but since your body is still asleep, a part of your brain still believes you are in dreamland. Thus, your body remains paralyzed and your mind continues to conjure hallucinations (dreams). It is actually the fear of paralysis that leads to the menacing hallucinations. Your brain creates these hallucinations in response to your terror.

Can You Die from Sleep Paralysis? Is Sleep Paralysis Dangerous?

No. In short, sleep paralysis is NOT dangerous, although it can be disruptive to your sleep. Those who have long episodes of sleep paralysis and try to fight it may even experience sore muscles the next day from trying to break free of the paralysis. That’s the most dangerous that it gets. Those who don’t know the cause of sleep paralysis may become terrified of falling asleep and their quality of sleep could greatly suffer. If an informed person consciously experiences sleep paralysis, they should remain calm and not fight it. The mind will likely soon completely re-enter the sleeping state.

So where did all these rumors about the dangers of sleep paralysis come from? Well, as sleep paralysis is a natural human phenomenon, it’s been around for years, maybe even millennia. Most likely, the rumors of death by sleep paralysis were passed down through folklore from various cultures around the world. The hallucinations experienced are usually directly correlated to the culture’s popular folklore images. For example, only when flying saucers became popular in the United States did Americans start reporting vivid alien abductions during sleep paralysis.

So, Should You Be Worried About Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is nothing you should be scared of. However, it can be quite terrifying when your half-asleep mind convinces you that the hallucinations are real. If sleep paralysis is a problem for you, fear not! Plenty of doctors and psychologists can offer ways to lessen the likelihood of experiencing the phenomenon at all. There are also several known ways to stop sleep paralysis while you are experiencing it, many of which are available on the internet. However, don’t be fooled by websites that claim sleep paralysis is the result of anything other than a completely natural mind-body function.

About Mariele Ventrice

I am a writer, reader, and expert napper. Sometimes, I sleep with the lights on.

Comments

  1. Anony,ous says:

    Believe it or not sleep paralyisis is a demonic attack.

  2. Matthew Proctor says:

    I’m not so sure it’s a demonic attack. I’ve experienced sleep paralysis more than a few times myself and it just feels like I’m conscious with my eyes open and seeing my own bedroom but still sleeping and misinterpreting the information as if it were a dream. I’ve actually experienced the phenomenon enough to know when it’s happening and to force myself to wake up from it before the real trauma starts. I also know that it runs in the family, because both my Mother and my brother have experienced similar events in their sleep on multiple occasions.

    Sleep and dreams are funny things though. There’s a lot of folk lore related to sleep paralysis. Some people think it’s demons, as you say Anony,ous (nice name by the way), others think it’s alien abduction, some say ghosts or spirits, but there’s a lot of scientific evidence to support what Mariele talks about in this article. There’s nothing more at play than a trick of the human mind.

    The mind can do remarkable things, there doesn’t have to be any super natural occurrence or other worldly presence to make it fascinating or miraculous. Science is awesome, even when it’s just the plain old run of the mill natural world.

    If you have a sleep paralysis story you’d like to share with us, please feel free to tell us about it in the comments for Scary Sleep Paralysis Stories. No matter what you believe sleep paralysis is (hallucinations, demons, or otherwise) it’s still interesting to hear about people’s experiences with it.

    • Paul McFadden says:

      I found out that I have Sleep Paralysis, and it sucks. Sometimes I don’t go to sleep.

      • Matthew Proctor says:

        Sleep paralysis does suck but I wouldn’t avoid going to sleep because of it. The more irregular your sleep schedule the more likely you are to experience sleep paralysis when you do end up going to sleep. The best thing you can do is try to go to sleep at the same time every night and get a full 8 hours of sleep.

        Here are a few things that I’ve found cause sleep paralysis in me, maybe you’re doing some of them:

        1. If I eat soon before going to bed. I think the process of digesting food while i’m sleeping causes me to sleep uneasy and that brings on sleep paralysis. I try not to eat within an hour of going to sleep.

        2. Noise pollution: if there’s some noise pollution in your bedroom you want to try and get rid of it. I noticed that stuff like a cat scratching at the door, a car alarm going off, or even the whir of an air conditioner can trigger sleep paralysis because it wakes me up just enough to wake my mind and not my body.

        3. Don’t watch anything frightening right before bed and don’t go to sleep angry. If you’re doing something stressful, like watching the Exorcist, before you go to bed your body is going to be tense and it’s harder to sleep soundly. Try to do calming things before going to sleep.

        Anyway, I hope that helps. We’ve got a bunch of other sleep paralysis articles here: Sleep Paralysis Articles. You might find more tips in them.

  3. I have been experiencing sleep paralysis for the past 12 months. At first it only happened once every 6-8 weeks. Now it happens 2-3 times per week, with some episodes being comprised of 3-4 attacks per night. Mostly the attacks occur upon waking, but they can also occur during the middle of the night. I find this much more distressing as it makes me too scared to go back to sleep, especially as I will often have another 1-2 episodes within 15-30 minutes of falling back to sleep.
    I have found a couple of things that help my situation. I always set my alarm for 7 hours from the time I go to bed – I have found that this reduces the number of sleep paralysis episodes that I have upon waking because I wake myself up before they can occur. Sleeping on the couch in front of the television also seems to help – not sure if it distracts my brain – but I have never had an occurrence of sleep paralysis whilst doing this.
    Since I was 17 I have had experienced night terrors and hallucinations – always within 15-30 minutes of falling asleep. In 2009 I did a sleep study and the results were inconclusive – the doctor told me that I either had a slow-wave sleep disorder, which would improve with age, or narcolepsy – which would get worse with age. Given this new symptom and its close association with narcolepsy, I am worried that it could now be the latter.

    • Paul McFadden says:

      I know how you feel about this Sleep Paralysis. What I do know to ignore the episodes, every night.
      I make sure i don’t take naps, and eat very late. I make sure that I sleep when its time to go to bed, and I make sure I sleep more 6-8 hours of sleep every night.

  4. I suffered a lot as a child with sleep paralysis and less as an adult and 3 years ago i had my last ( fingers crossed) episode! As strange as it sounds during the last visit i managed to muster the strength to move my leg and turn myself away from ‘The Visitor’ and i just went away! I instantly awoke and i felt a massive acheivement that i had finally conquered it! Now im not saying it was a real demon,im just saying that this positive step put an end to my terrifying nights,and if it worked for me it could work for you, maybe worth a try!.

  5. Physiological symptoms of sleep paralysis are the same with those of syncope. Thus, sleep paralysis is caused by syncope. For experts in cardiovascular diseases, sleep paralysis or syncope is a common symptoms of cardiovascular disease【1】.For a long time, due to the ignorance of physiological knowledge of syncope , ischemie cerebrale , slow beat, fast beat and so on, psychological illusion in people’s sleep generated by such physical symptoms i.e. the nightmare really has puzzled the psychologists, therefore they put forward a wide range of wrong even absurd views onthe nightmares, which both have no scientific basis, and could not be confirmed, even more were not self-consistent.For example, a medical expert Debacke drew the correct conclusion that the anxiety-dream resulted from ischemie cerebrale according to the physiological symptoms of the anxiety-dream of a boy of thirteen. Freud called such view was a ” medical mythology” in the book of Dream Psychology. Most important,the experiment confirmed the idea. For example, a place in country , there is a “haunted” bed which makes people have sleep paralysis or syncope every night, and it is this fact that the pillow in the bed is too high will reduce cerebral blood flow.
    【1】http://www.medhelp.org/posts/Sleep-Disorders/Nocturnal-fainting/show/11612

  6. I’ve experienced sleep paralysis since around the time I was 20. Now at 35 years old I am still occasionally dealing with this. The reason I am posting here is because I experienced it last night for the first time in several years and would like to understand why this is happening to me. While I see myself not believing in god, the devil, demons or any other supernatural or extraterrestrial entities, every time I experience this it feels like there is something present that is other worldly. It was so horrific that I tried to roll myself out of bed onto the hardwood floor to wake up my roommates in hope that they could save me from what seemed like death. Embarrassingly, once I woke up I went to a housemates room and asked them if I could sleep on their floor for the rest of the night.

  7. sgroclkc says:

    There are two main types of scary phenomenons in sleep(nightmare and sleep paralysis) that are caused by two main scary symptoms of cardiovascular disease {palpitation and fainting (syncope)}.

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