What causes sleep paralysis?

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Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon where a person is conscious but unable to move or speak, typically occurring when transitioning between stages of wakefulness and sleep. This can last for a few seconds up to a few minutes, and some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking1. The exact cause of sleep paralysis is not fully understood, but researchers believe it is caused by a disturbed rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. It mostly happens as people are falling into or coming out of REM sleep. During this stage, the brain normally paralyzes the muscles to prevent individuals from acting out their dreams. However, during sleep paralysis, the individual is awake or half awake, and thus aware of their inability to move1. Several factors have been linked to sleep paralysis. These include stress, disrupted sleep schedules (such as jet lag or pulling an all-nighter), and certain mental health conditions like social anxiety or panic disorder. Sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and insomnia have also been associated with sleep paralysis1234. Furthermore, it has been suggested that sleep paralysis might be partly genetic1. Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it's called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it happens as you are waking up, it's called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis1. While sleep paralysis can be a frightening experience, it is generally considered harmless and is not linked to any serious underlying psychiatric problems. However, if it occurs frequently and causes significant distress, it may be worth discussing with a healthcare provider. Treatment is often not required, but improving sleep habits, treating any underlying conditions such as narcolepsy, and managing mental health problems that may contribute to sleep paralysis can help12.
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