Experts don’t yet understand what exactly causes sleep paralysis — a phenomenon in which you can’t move as you wake up or fall asleep. During sleep paralysis, your muscles are frozen in place, which usually only happens when you reach rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Sleep paralysis risk factors

Certain factors can increase the chances that you experience sleep paralysis. These include:

  • Getting too little sleep
  • Having a frequently changing sleep schedule
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health conditions
  • Sleep disorders like narcolepsy
  • Using certain medications
  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Having family members who experience sleep paralysis

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.

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