Can anxiety cause sleep paralysis?

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated July 16, 2022

can anxiety cause sleep paralysis

Can Anxiety Cause Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis – feeling like you are unable to move just after falling asleep or waking up – is a naturally occurring phenomenon associated with sleep. It occurs almost every time we sleep as we transition between stages of wakefulness and sleep.

Sleep paralysis occurs to prevent injury while dreaming.

For instance, many of us have had dreams where we’re trying to run, but it feels like our legs are extremely difficult to move. That’s because of the immobilizing effect of sleep paralysis.

Most times, we aren’t aware of being immobilized because we aren’t conscious during those stages of sleep. However, there are times when we can be consciously awake while the body hasn’t woken up yet. I’ve had many of those experiences myself when I was struggling with anxiety disorder and when I let my stress elevate higher than I normally let it.

So, while anxiety doesn’t cause sleep paralysis, it can make us more aware of it. Here’s why:

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Anxiety stresses the body, and stress stimulates the body. Elevated stimulation (hyperstimulation) can interfere with good sleep, such as preventing the body from entering the deeper stages of sleep.

For instance, sometimes, the stimulation from chronic stress can raise our consciousness even though the body is still asleep. This typically happens during the transition from deep sleep to the lighter stages of sleep, such as during REM stages.

Consequently, raised consciousness can make us aware sleep paralysis is occurring even though the body is still sleeping. While we’d like to consciously move, sleep paralysis prevents that until the body wakes up.

I’ve even had episodes where I was consciously awake while my body was asleep and snoring. It was an odd feeling being consciously aware my body was still asleep.

Many stressed and anxious people have episodes of being consciously awake while the body is still sleeping, and many experience sleep paralysis.

Many people also notice this when they catnap during the day. For instance, they become consciously awake, yet the body is still fast asleep. So, when they want to wake the body up, they have a difficult time. Sometimes they have to violently shake the body out of sleep before it wakes up. I’ve had many of those episodes, too.

So, while consciously experiencing sleep paralysis may be disconcerting, it’s a common indication of chronic stress (hyperstimulation). These episodes typically subside as chronic stress is eliminated and regular good sleep returns.

It’s definitely not something to worry about. Most people who struggle with stress and sleep have episodes of being consciously aware of sleep paralysis. Again, this is very common and not something to be concerned with.

Recovery Support members can learn more about sleep, its many stages, common problems, and how to resolve them in the Sleep section (chapter 18).

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Can Anxiety Cause Sleep Paralysis?