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How Is Sleep Paralysis Treated?

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Updated April 30, 2014

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How Is Sleep Paralysis Treated?
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Question: How Is Sleep Paralysis Treated?
Because sleep paralysis can fill you with sheer terror, it is not unreasonable for you to seek treatment. But how is it treated?
Answer:

Sleep paralysis may be an infrequent or even singular occurrence. In these cases, a treatment is not necessary.

Sleep paralysis is not dangerous. It is adequate for many people to just understand what is happening and to recognize that something more serious is not occurring. This reassurance may be all that is needed. However, there are many people who experience sleep paralysis more frequently. This can become distressing. For people who are afflicted like this, a treatment may be sought.

Sometimes sleep paralysis occurs without any other symptoms. This accounts for most cases, and it is called isolated sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis may also occur in a condition called narcolepsy, and is part of a constellation of other symptoms that includes excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy and hypnagogic hallucinations. For those who have narcolepsy, a unique set of treatments must be considered.

During an episode of sleep paralysis, the affected person lies conscious yet paralyzed. It is rare for another person to witness this and intervene. The episode may end by slowly being able to move or by falling back asleep. Some people suggest that an alerting sound (a noise that wakes you) or another person’s touch can stop it. Others describe sleep paralysis as simply ending suddenly. It typically lasts only a few minutes.

Afterwards, someone with sleep paralysis may feel absolutely exhausted. The experience may be emotionally overwhelming, and some wake up gasping or crying. Other symptoms are sometimes reported, such as a rapid heart rate. Many people feel crazy or embarrassed after the experience, and they may be unwilling to tell others about it. Some are even afraid to fall back asleep.

The first treatment step is to avoid potential triggers. Try to minimize sleep deprivation or undue stress, and avoid other triggers such as sleeping on your back. In general, the sleep hygiene guidelines may also be useful. For those who have multiple episodes and find them intolerable, medications such as a selective serotonin receptor inhibitor (SSRI) may be helpful. Conditions that disrupt sleep, especially psychiatric illness, should also be addressed.

Even though sleep paralysis may be frightening, the condition is not harmful when it occurs in isolation, and it will generally resolve on its own. Other treatment options are available if it becomes a recurring problem.

Sources:

Koran, L.M. et al. "Fluoxetine for isolated sleep paralysis." Psychosomatics. 1993;34:184-7.

McCarty, D.E. et al. "A case of sleep paralysis with hypnopompic hallucinations." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2009;5(1):83-84.

Morton, K. "Paralyzed at Night: Is Sleep Paralysis Normal?" Stanford Sleep & Dreams. 2012.

Spanos, N.P. et al. "The frequency and correlates of sleep paralysis in a university sample." J Res Pers. 1995;29:285-305.

Takeuchi, T. et al. "Isolated sleep paralysis elicited by sleep interruption." Sleep. 1992;15:217-225.

Takeuchi, T. et al. "Factors related to the occurrence of isolated sleep paralysis elicited during a multiphasic sleep-wake schedule." Sleep 2002;25:89-96.

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