Sleep Paralysis as a Psychological Phenomenon

Sleep paralysis is a well-known phenomenon closely linked with the process of waking up and, in some cases, falling asleep. During such a state, it is not possible to move or speak, yet a person is usually aware. Hallucinations are also frequently a part of sleep paralysis, provoking the development of various beliefs and myths related to such a state. Throughout history, sleep paralysis was associated with unwanted dreams, fear, and even nightmares. However, in reality, sleep paralysis is related to a defense mechanism, even though it appears to be unpleasant. The actual reason behind these vivid dreams is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These dreams may be disturbing and cause uncontrolled muscle activity. In order to prevent possible injuries and harmful actions, the body paralyzes itself.

Paralysis is a unique body reaction, which at first glance appears to be a flaw, yet is a useful tool provided by evolution. Nevertheless, it is closely linked with multiple unpleasant experiences and may cause fear or anxiety. In some cases, REM sleep may end faster than paralysis, leaving the person awake but temporarily unable to move or speak, and such a state is called sleep paralysis. Knowledge related to sleep paralysis appears to be controversial as it is frequently accompanied by rumors and beliefs. Lack of research in the area worsens the situation, as the nature of paralysis-related hallucinations is questionable, and no treatment is currently available. Recent studies view the issue from various perspectives. Researchers use neuropharmacology to investigate sleep paralysis and potentially introduce a therapeutic drug. Scientists also study cultural aspects of sleep paralysis by analyzing the phenomenon in separate countries or regions. Diverse therapeutic techniques are developed as a treatment for isolated sleep paralysis. Moreover, scholars study the correlation between sleep paralysis and other phenomena such as false awakening in lucid dreamers.

Recent Research

Sleep paralysis usually occurs under certain medical conditions such as narcolepsy or seizure disorders. Nonetheless, it may also be found without any medical background, and in this case, it is called isolated sleep paralysis. For both of these two issues, no treatment was developed yet. Hence, the latest study focuses its attention on preventing and disrupting isolated sleep paralysis. During the research, existing therapeutic methods were tested in order to determine their efficiency (Sharpless & Grom, 2016). Prevention tests have shown that preventive methods were believed to be successful by approximately eighty percent of subjects (Sharpless & Grom, 2016). The study also proved that isolated sleep paralysis episodes cause higher levels of stress in women than men (Sharpless & Grom, 2016). Further investigation of prevention and disruption methods may be needed to develop an effective therapy.

Recent studies tend to investigate sleep paralysis in terms of various contexts and medical conditions. A false awakening is a sleep-related phenomenon involving a state in which awakening becomes a part of a dream. A research was conducted determining the correlation between sleep paralysis and false awakening in lucid dreamers. More than forty percent of respondents confirmed the concomitance of sleep paralysis with false awakening (Buzzi, 2019). These findings may indicate the existence of common neurophysiologic aspects in lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis. According to the same study, the knowledge regarding the issue may be insufficient, and further research is required (Buzzi, 2019). Studying sleep paralysis may be beneficial for both theoretical and practical implementations.

Sleep paralysis is frequently associated with supernatural beliefs as it may cause hallucinations. Hence, its impact on cultural development, the establishment of myths and legends may be studied. Recent research focuses on the correlation between sleep paralysis episodes and cultural aspects, including beliefs and traditions (Jalal et al., 2015). Pandafeche attack is a specific cultural interpretation of sleep paralysis associated with a belief in a supernatural being called an evil witch (Jalal et al., 2015). It was determined that almost thirty-eight percent of respondents believe that sleep paralysis was caused by Pandafeche (Jalal et al., 2015). Such relatively high rates of association between sleep paralysis symptoms and paranormal creatures or events may indicate that there is a strong correlation between REM sleep-related hallucinations and the development of culture. Moreover, it may be necessary to determine if cultural beliefs about sleep paralysis may cause additional fear and create vicious cycles of worsening.

Sleep paralysis is a relatively frequent event as, according to some sources, approximately one in three people experiences it at least once. Various studies are conducted in order to determine preconditions, which may lead to a higher frequency of sleep paralysis. Researchers take distinct aspects into consideration, including mental and physical health conditions and lifestyle. Recent research has shown a strong correlation between sleep paralysis frequency and belonging to a particular ethnic group (Jalal & Hinton, 2016). Even though the studied groups existed in the same cultural framework, Danish ethnic groups demonstrated considerably bigger number of sleep paralysis episodes (Jalal & Hinton, 2016). These results may indicate that ethnic heritage may essentially influence various aspects of mental health. It may be necessary to conduct focused research to identify the possible predisposition of diverse sectors of society to sleep paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis Drug Treatment Development

Body paralysis designed to prevent physical activity during REM sleep may not only be harmless but beneficial. However, it may turn into sleep paralysis accompanied by unpleasant hallucinations, disturbing experiences, and other symptoms. As already mentioned, there are several therapeutic methods that may contribute to the prevention of sleep paralysis episodes, yet their efficiency is uncertain. Therefore, it may be necessary to study the field and develop a specific drug to treat sleep paralysis hallucinations. Research has shown that serotine plays a significant role in sleep/wake cycles, and serotine-based substances are used as a primary drug to treat sleep paralysis (Jalal, 2018). Nonetheless, these drugs are not always effective and require further clinical testing in order to minimize side effects. According to Jalal, a new drug called pimavanserin should be implemented into treatment plans to target hallucinations caused by sleep paralysis selectively (Jalal, 2018). Even though sleep paralysis may be closely linked with anxiety and unpleasant experiences, it usually represents an isolated incident. Nevertheless, in some cases, it may have repetitive nature and requires comprehensive treatment. Hence, it may be beneficial to investigate the field further.


Sleep paralysis is a common issue with a large number of people facing it at least once during their lifetime, yet it does not receive sufficient attention from scholars. The problem is closely linked to various aspects of human life, and some studies even show a correlation with cultural development. Recent studies also focus on the possible interrelation between sleep paralysis and mental disorders. These studies may have significant value in developing effective treatment for repetitive cases, related anxiety, and hallucinations. Moreover, some researchers already propose potentially promising methods of coping with negative aftereffects of sleep paralysis. It may be critical to study the field further to establish a viable approach to treatment.


Buzzi, G. (2019). False awakenings in lucid dreamers: How they relate with lucid dreams, and how lucid dreamers relate with them. Dreaming, 29(4), 323-338. Web.

Jalal, B. (2018). The neuropharmacology of sleep paralysis hallucinations: serotonin 2A activation and a novel therapeutic drug. Psychopharmacology, 235(11), 3083–3091. Web.

Jalal, B., & Hinton, D. E. (2016). Lifetime presence and rates of sleep paralysis in Denmark of ethnic Danes and non-ethnic Danes. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 70(6), 253–253. Web.

Jalal, B., Romanelli, A., & Hinton, D. E. (2015). Cultural Explanations of Sleep Paralysis in Italy: The Pandafeche Attack and Associated Supernatural Beliefs. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 39(4), 651–664. Web.

Sharpless, B. A., & Grom, J. L. (2016). Isolated Sleep Paralysis: Fear, Prevention, and Disruption. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 14(2), 134–139. Web.

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