Paralyzing Sleep

sleep paralysisWhen I was 12 years old, I awoke one night to humming and movement on my bed. In my half-awake state, I assumed the sound was wind and the movement was my baby brother on my bed. When I opened my eyes, I was unable to move, talk or scream. I was paralyzed and terrified as my dreams played out in front of me. Frightened, I closed my eyes and before long, I was able to move and speak again. The whole episode lasted all of 2 minutes but, it felt like hours.

Variations of the episodes played out throughout my teens and adulthood. It would happen randomly multiple times per month. Each episode was just as frightening as the first episode. It would be 14 more years before I learned what the paralysis “episodes” were.

In 2005, after years of struggling with feeling tired all the time, I sought medical advice. A sleep study was conducted after I was diagnosed with excessive daytime sleepiness disorder (EDS), a symptom of narcolepsy, that causes suffers to feel sleepy during the day despite the amount of sleep received. It was found that I suffered from two sleep disorders, alpha-delta wave intrusion and sleep paralysis.

Alpha-delta wave intrusion occurs when delta waves present during the “dream” stage of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). The delta waves are interrupted by the alpha waves of wakefulness making the sleeper semiconscious during sleep. With alpha-delta wave intrusion the sleeper is semi-conscious and may awaken during the REM stage of sleep, feeling paralyzed. This “paralyzed” feeling is known as sleep paralysis. According to the Mayo Clinic, “…sleep paralysis mimics the type of temporary paralysis that normally occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the period of sleep during which most dreaming occurs. This temporary immobility during REM sleep may prevent your body from acting out dream activity”.

Sleep paralysis and alpha-delta wave intrusion are triggered by lack of sleep, changing sleep schedules, increased stress, sleeping on the back, other sleep disorders and caffeine use. Since my diagnosis, I have been able to better control the sleep paralysis episodes through awareness, abstaining from triggers and antidepressants. Since I now know that the episode only lasts a couple of minutes, I will wiggle a toe or finger during an episode to awaken from it quickly and unscathed.


Cheyne, J. A. (2005), Sleep paralysis episode frequency and number, types, and structure of associated hallucinations. Journal of Sleep Research, 14: 319-324.

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Isolated Sleep Paralysis





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