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Sleep Paralysis

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is an event where an individual is awake but unable to move. It occurs when a person is either going into sleep or coming out of sleep. It can last from 30 seconds up to a couple of minutes. Sometimes people have feelings of choking or trouble breathing. It often happens with people who have narcolepsy or other sleep disorders. It can occasionally occur in isolation without any other sleep disorders. It is not uncommon for people to experience hallucinations with it.

What causes sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis occurs when part of your brain is in the dream stage (REM sleep) while other parts of the brain are awake. While we dream, our bodies are more or less paralyzed (except for some muscles that help us breathe). Not getting enough sleep and an irregular sleep schedule can trigger sleep paralysis.

How is it diagnosed?

Sleep paralysis is diagnosed based on the patients' history and descriptions of the events.

How is it treated?

Sleep paralysis while frightening to experience, does not require treatment. Your doctor will ask questions to see if there are signs or symptoms of other underlying sleep disorders that could be the potential cause of the sleep paralysis. Often, with treatment of any underlying sleep disorder, the sleep paralysis will decrease or completely go away.


This provides general information. If you have any questions, please ask your doctor, nurse or other health care team members working with your family.

Reviewed by Sleep Center 12/2017

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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