Sleep paralysis

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
  • frightened

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:

Things you can do to help prevent sleep paralysis

You may be able to prevent sleep paralysis by changing your sleeping habits.

Things you can do to help prevent sleep paralysis


  • 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

Things you can do to help prevent sleep paralysis


  • 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

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).