How Do You Get Sleep Paralysis?

You May Be Able to Avoid Sleep Paralysis

woman looking miserable in bed
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Sleep paralysis is generally not a very enjoyable experience. Most people who experience it describe the symptoms of sleep paralysis as unpleasant, nerve-racking, and sometimes downright scary. Until the cause of the issue is understood it can be extremely unnerving to endure.

How Do You Get Sleep Paralysis and How Can You Avoid It?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move, speak, or control your body, despite wanting to.

It typically occurs when falling asleep or waking up. Sleep paralysis is sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, which add to the unpleasantness of the situation. There may be some factors that play into sleep paralysis that are beyond your control, but some self-induced behaviors may potentially trigger an episode of sleep paralysis in the right situation. By learning how certain causes can potentially lead to sleep paralysis, you may be better able to avoid it.

An Extension of The Dream State 

Sleep paralysis is incredibly common and up to 1 in 4 individuals will experience it unintentionally at one point or another. As it is simply an extension of the dream state (called REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep), sleep paralysis is technically harmless. It is typically not something people seek to repeat once they experience it, however, as it can be unpleasant. You may wish to learn how to get sleep paralysis just so that you can avoid those triggers that may cause it.


First, you must consider the factors that are beyond your control. It is often reported as occurring in families, but it is so common that a family history may not be particularly informative. It also seems to happen more often in those with an underlying psychiatric condition like anxiety or depression.

Again, these conditions are relatively common, so this may not be meaningful in and of itself. 

For the most part, the triggers you can control relate to disruptions of the timing or quality of REM sleep. Those whose sleep is often interrupted may be more likely to suffer from sleep paralysis. Consider these possibilities:

  • Sleep deprivation and stress can incite sleep paralysis.
  • People who do shift work, probably due to schedule disruption, are more likely to experience it at some point.
  • In a controlled environment (such as a sleep study), it is possible to trigger sleep paralysis by interrupting REM sleep.
  • Sleep paralysis is more often reported when people sleep directly on their backs.
  • It is also more likely to occur while falling asleep at night, although it can occur during naps and rests during the day. 
  • The use of alcohol or drugs has been reported to cause sleep paralysis, but this likely relates to disruption of sleep rather than some other effect.

Therefore, you can avoid episodes of sleep paralysis by ensuring that you get a sufficient quantity and quality of sleep. Try to avoid interruptions to your REM sleep. You will also feel better in general when you get better rest. If you wish to share your experiences of sleep paralysis or read about those of others, join the discussion.


Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 5th edition, 2011.

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

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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