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Sleep Paralysis and Its Connection With Mental Health 

Harmony Bay Wellness

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night without any control of your body, you may be suffering from sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a type of abnormal sleep behavior that can leave you feeling very unsettled and anxious. To address this sleep problem, you will want to understand what sleep paralysis is and why it happens. 

What Is Sleep Paralysis? 

Sleep paralysis is a condition defined when you lose brief loss of muscle control just after you have fallen asleep or before you have woken up. This type of reaction is called atonia, and many people also experience hallucinations. 

Sleep paralysis falls into the category of parasomnia, which includes different abnormal behaviors people experience during sleep. It is a REM parasomnia due to the rapid eye movement stage of the sleep cycle. Standard REM sleep usually happens when you dream vividly and experience atonia, but you are not aware of it.  

Researchers believe that sleep paralysis happens when you enter the REM stage along with atonia but have a mixed state of consciousness, which is why you are aware that you cannot move your body. 

People with sleep paralysis often experience scary hallucinations that there is someone else in the room with them or they may have out-of-body sensations. Some may also experience a feeling of pressure or suffocation during these episodes. 

Types of Sleep Paralysis 

Any type of research involving people with sleep paralysis has usually divided them into two separate categories, such as: 

  • Recurrent sleep paralysis: People who have experienced recurrent sleep paralysis usually have multiple sleep paralysis episodes over a period of time.  
  • Isolated sleep paralysis: It is not uncommon for people to experience one episode of sleep paralysis that is not connected to any other type of diagnosis. Isolated sleep paralysis may only happen once or twice in your lifetime. 

What Causes Sleep Paralysis? 

There is a lot about sleep paralysis that we still do not know as more research is needed to better understand this sleep condition. The research that has been done has shown that there are a few risk factors that could potentially cause someone to experience isolated or recurrent sleep paralysis. 

Sleep Disorders 

People who have other types of sleep disorders are at a much greater risk of experiencing sleep paralysis. This most likely has something to do with the fact that any interruptions to normal sleep could trigger abnormal REM behaviors. Some examples of sleep disorders that could lead to sleep paralysis include insomnia, nighttime leg cramps, and obstructive sleep apnea. 

Dream Patterns 

How a person dreams and the types of dreams they experience could also put them at a greater risk of experiencing sleep paralysis. It’s believed that people who have traits of imaginativeness and dissociation, such as daydreaming, could be more likely to have sleep paralysis episodes. There may also be a link between this condition and people who experience vivid nightmares or lucid dreams. 

Mental Health Disorders 

Mental health greatly impacts how you sleep and whether or not you experience any interruptions throughout the night. In some instances, sleep paralysis has been associated with mental health conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety disorders. Those who have a family history of sleep paralysis may also have a higher risk, although it is still not understood why that is. 


Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes overwhelming daytime fatigue and drowsiness. Many aspects of narcolepsy are still not completely understood, but it is believed to be associated with genetic factors and abnormal signaling in the brain. It often causes sudden attacks of sleep, loss of muscle tone, hallucinations, and other sleep-related problems. 

Those who have narcolepsy have a very high risk of experiencing sleep paralysis, especially regarding recurrent episodes. 

How Mental Health Is Connected With Sleep Paralysis 

A common misconception people have is that sleep paralysis is related to mental illness. This is not necessarily true since sleep paralysis is categorized as a sleep behavior condition, although it can be brought on by mental health disorders. 

You may also find that you experience isolated sleep paralysis episodes depending on how your mental health is doing. For instance, you may experience an episode when you are particularly stressed or if there is a week where you haven’t set aside enough time to take care of yourself and get enough rest. 

Because there is a strong connection between mental health and sleep paralysis, it’s recommended that you focus on treating your mental health first. A therapist can help you address your mental health and any unresolved issues that may be leading to sleep paralysis episodes. Depending on what you believe is causing your sleep paralysis, you should look specifically for a PTSD, anxiety, depression, or trauma therapist. 

Ways to Combat Sleep Paralysis 

If you suffer from sleep paralysis, there may be some ways you can try to combat this like you would any other sleep-related condition. Here are some examples of treatment options and ways to potentially prevent recurring sleep paralysis episodes. 

Establish a Routine 

One of the best ways to counteract any kind of sleep problem is to have an established nighttime routine. A nighttime routine ensures you get the same amount of sleep every night and reduces anxiety or stress before bed. 

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can also help manage risk factors associated with sleep paralysis, such as narcolepsy and mental health issues. 

Avoid Stimulants 

Anything that could interrupt your sleep could possibly be linked to sleep paralysis episodes. A good rule of thumb for anyone who wants better sleep is to avoid anything stimulating before bed. This could include stimulating things like alcohol, caffeine, or eating late at night. 

You should also avoid any kind of blue light for at least an hour or two before going to sleep. Stay away from electronic devices, replacing them with soothing activities before bed, such as reading or gentle exercise.  

Another thing to keep in mind is the type of medication you may be taking for other conditions. Some medications can cause side effects that trigger sleep paralysis or other sleep-related problems. 

Reduce Stress 

Even though the main cause of sleep paralysis is still a mystery, researchers have noticed a link between this condition and stress. The best way to counteract any type of mental health or sleep-related issue you are having is to focus on stress management. 

Try to reduce or balance anything in your life that is causing you stress that you have control over. You should also try to avoid nighttime stress if this is a time when you start to feel more anxiety. 

Get Mental Health Help 

If you struggle with any kind of mental health disorder, it is vital that you get the help you need to manage this condition. Even if it is something generic like anxiety, it’s still something worth looking into and treating if possible. 

Some people find that therapy or trauma counseling can help manage symptoms that could lead to sleep paralysis. This is especially important if you have trauma-related mental health problems that could potentially trigger these episodes. 

A therapist can work with you to find ways to reduce stress and anxiety in your life and reduce any other sleep paralysis triggers. They may also recommend calming activities such as yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation. 


Sleep paralysis can feel very scary and isolating for many individuals, especially if it is recurring. Even though this is not necessarily a dangerous condition, it is something you will most likely want to treat and prevent so that you can sleep better at night. Some of the best ways to counteract sleep paralysis are to see a therapist, establish a nighttime routine, and reduce your overall stress. 

Have you experienced sleep paralysis episodes and want to get to the bottom of this problem? Contact us today at Harmony Bay Wellness to book an appointment with one of our experienced therapists. 

Treatment with Harmony Bay

Harmony Bay is an outpatient behavioral health service that offers primary mental health treatment for a variety of mental health disorders. Our mission is to make mental health care convenient and affordable while providing an unmatched experience to our clients. contact us today by calling 855.765.6399.