Sleep Health

Can Sleep Paralysis Kill You? Exploring the Facts and Risks

June 29, 2023
Christina Santisteban

Have you ever been in a predicament where you're caught between a dream and reality, unable to move or even scream? Well, it might be no surprise that you've just encountered sleep paralysis, a terrifying phenomenon that leaves many with countless questions. The biggest one being, can sleep paralysis kill you? 

It's time to put your fears to rest, as sleep paralysis can't cause severe health issues or fatalities. But don't let your guard down just yet. Sleep paralysis can be mentally and physically exhausting, damaging your sleeping habits and mental state if not adequately addressed. 

Fear not, for this blog has got you covered! We'll delve into everything concerning sleep paralysis, including its symptoms, causes, and what you can do to stop it from being a recurring event. So, sit back, relax, and let's tackle this sleep demon once and for all: 

What Is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary condition that can leave you feeling powerless and vulnerable. It occurs as you transition between sleep and wakefulness, leaving you unable to move or speak for seconds or minutes. During this time, you may experience sensations that feel very real, such as touching, hearing, smelling, or seeing people or things that don't actually exist. 

For many, the experience of sleep paralysis can be frightening, with feelings of anxiety or even a sense of impending death. While the experience is unpleasant, it is reassuring to know that, for most people, it is infrequent with no long-term risks. In some cases, underlying health conditions may contribute to its development, but these are typically manageable (Suni, 2020).

What Are The Underlying Causes Of Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a common phenomenon caused by insufficient sleep and stress. Interruptions to your sleep schedule can disrupt your regular sleep cycle, increasing the likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis. Similarly, stress can also contribute to this condition! 

Some of the other significant underlying causes of sleep paralysis are: 


Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder that affects a person's ability to sleep and wake up. It is a neurological condition that is characterized by the rapid onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), where the person experiences a strong urge to sleep during the day, even if they have had a good night's sleep. 

Additionally, people with narcolepsy have episodes of uncontrolled sleep attacks, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations (Liu et al., 2018). 

With two types of narcolepsy - type 1 and type 2, it is essential to understand the distinction between the two. 

Type 1 narcolepsy involves narcolepsy with cataplexy, while type 2 narcolepsy is characterized by narcolepsy without cataplexy. Sadly, close to 50% of people develop symptoms during their teenage years. This is particularly concerning as narcolepsy can cause considerable impairment in social and academic performance. Additionally, the cause of narcolepsy is linked to the loss of neurons that contain orexin (Doctors, 2023). 

Although type 1 narcolepsy is considered an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by an infection, the cause of type 2 narcolepsy still remains unknown.

Shift Work-Related Sleep Disorders

Many experience disrupted sleep cycles throughout their lives, whether it's due to work, stress, or other factors. However, the consequences can be particularly challenging for those working rotating shifts like early morning, night, and afternoon shifts. 

In fact, according to recent data published in Pubmed, about 12% of nurses suffer from a sleep disorder called shift work sleep disorder, which often leads to sleep paralysis. This can cause multiple symptoms, including excessive sleepiness and difficulty sleeping (Troy, 2020). 

Sleep Deprivation

Many people suffer from sleep deprivation, which can have serious consequences. From voluntary sleep deprivation to circadian clock disorders, there are many reasons why individuals may not be getting the sleep they need to function properly. 

Lack of sleep can result in various problems, such as impaired judgment, increased accident risk, and lack of hand-eye coordination. For those who suffer from sleep deprivation, disrupting their circadian rhythm can lead to fatigue and extreme daytime sleepiness (Sharpless & Barber, 2011).

Symptoms Related To Sleep Paralysis

If you have ever experienced sleep paralysis, you are likely familiar with the feeling of do sleep paralysis kill? For those who may not know, symptoms of sleep paralysis might include: 

  • Unable to react or express
  • Strangling or breathing difficulties
  • A sense of stress on the chest
  • Distorted perceptions
  • Apprehension
  • Muscle aches and migraines
  • Transpiration
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling as if you're about to die

What Are The Different Types of Sleep Paralysis?

Ready for a spine-tingling fact? Sleep paralysis, a temporary loss of muscle control known as muscle atonia, is a real phenomenon. And get this; there is not one, but TWO types! Get the scoop on this eerie condition.

Solitary Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a strange and unsettling experience that can happen to anyone. If you're experiencing Solitary sleep paralysis, you may be aware of the world around you, but you won't be able to respond. This particular type of sleep paralysis usually affects those who don't have any underlying medical conditions like narcolepsy. 

It typically sets in during adolescence and happens when a person is asleep in the supine position. Along with the immobilizing effects of the condition, Solitary sleep paralysis often conjures up vivid and disturbing hallucinations (Suni, 2020). 

A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine journal sheds light on the prevalence of Solitary sleep paralysis and fearful Solitary sleep paralysis in patients with panic attacks. The research indicates that anywhere from 2.2 to 39.6% of non-clinical samples and 7.4-50.0% of clinical samples have experienced this type of sleep paralysis at some point in their lifetime (Sharpless & Barber, 2011).

A typical episode lasts around six minutes, leaving the sufferer feeling disoriented and shaken. As unsettling as it may be, it's comforting to know that Solitary sleep paralysis is relatively common, and most people who experience it will only go through a few isolated episodes in their lifetime.

Persistent Sleep Paralysis

Persistent sleep paralysis is a benign parasomnia that is characterized by repeated episodes of isolated sleep paralysis. 

According to a paper published in the National Library of Medicine, this condition has a lifetime prevalence of 7% in students and 28% in females. Interestingly, the onset of persistent sleep paralysis is common during adolescence, and it is more common in females.

While the symptoms of this condition can be unsettling, they are typically not dangerous. Hallucinations are a common symptom of persistent sleep paralysis, which can be very distressing for some individuals. Additionally, many people report feeling pressure on their chest or feeling as if they are being strangled (Sehgal & Mignot, 2011). 

While these experiences can be frightening, effective treatments are available to help manage persistent sleep paralysis.

What Sensation Does Sleep Paralysis Lead To?

Sleep paralysis is a terrifying experience that affects many people, leaving them feeling helpless and afraid. During an episode, you are fully conscious but completely unable to move or respond to your surroundings, which can trigger intense feelings of panic and fear. 

To make matters worse, sufferers also experience hallucinations and eerie sounds that only add to the sense of dread. But does sleep paralysis kill? Although it is not harmful in itself, the psychological toll it takes on a person's well-being can be severe (Liu et al., 2018). 

The following is an overview of the different kinds of delusions one can have:

Intruder Hallucinations

Intruder hallucination is often associated with the feeling of an evil presence. Intruder hallucinations are commonly linked with sleep paralysis and can induce fear and auditory and visual hallucinations. 

Although the exact cause of these hallucinations is still widely debated, scientists believe that they may originate from the midbrain in a hypervigilant state. Additionally, research suggests that the superior parietal lobule, a part of the brain responsible for sensory processing and attention, may play a crucial role in causing these intrusive and unsettling experiences (, 2017). 

For anyone who has found themselves lost in the grip of an intruder hallucination, the experience may be frightening and confusing.

Chest Pressure Hallucinations

Have you ever experienced the feeling of someone or something pressing down on your chest while you sleep? It can be a terrifying experience known as chest pressure hallucination or incubus hallucination. 

This sensation is often associated with sleep paralysis, where the body is temporarily unable to move during the REM stage of sleep. During this time, respiratory muscle activity is reduced, causing a feeling of difficulty in breathing and even chest pain.

Scientists believe that this is due to the inhibition of motor neurons, which results in decreased activity and can lead to respiratory-related effects in incubus hallucination. While it may be a scary experience, it is vital to remember that it is a temporary condition and can be overcome with proper treatment (Heavner, 2017).

V-M Hallucinations

Have you ever felt like you were flying or floating, even though your feet were firmly on the ground? It may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it's a true-to-life feeling for those experiencing a vestibular motor hallucination. 

Unlike other types of hallucinations, this particular phenomenon is unique in its ability to create an out-of-body experience that feels almost tangible. Imagine the feeling of weightlessness as you soar through the air like a bird without any fear of falling (Doctors, 2023). 

It's a surreal experience that's difficult to put into words, but some people who have had vestibular motor hallucinations describe it as one of the most awe-inspiring moments of their lives.

What Is the Probability of Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a seemingly common phenomenon affecting people worldwide, with approximately 7.6% of people experiencing it. Typically, sleep paralysis begins in one's teenage years and can occur during the onset or offset of sleep. 

The underlying cause of this mysterious condition is rooted in the pons and ventromedial medulla, which inhibit motor neurons during REM sleep. This inhibition occurs through the use of alpha-aminobutyric acid and glycine, leading to body paralysis (Denis, 2018). 

Those who experience sleep paralysis are often accompanied by a range of troubling symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, feelings of choking, heart palpitations, trembling, sweating, and nausea. 

Additionally, many people who experience sleep paralysis also report auditory hallucinations, making the experience all the more bewildering.


Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis and questioned yourself, can sleep paralysis kill you? It can be a scary and overwhelming experience, but there is some good news. Despite what you may have heard, sleep paralysis is not life-threatening. This condition, where you cannot move or speak during the transition between sleep and wakefulness, poses no immediate danger to your health. 

That being said, it can be incredibly stressful and distressing to go through. If you're looking for ways to lessen the frequency of these episodes, implementing lifestyle changes and habits may help. It's also important to stay calm during an episode, take slow deep breaths, and try to wiggle your fingers or toes to snap out of it. 

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