The People's Perspective on Medicine

Sleep Paralysis Can Be Terrifying

Sleep bad dream

Q. For many years, from age 25 to 45, I experienced the horrifying feelings that I now have learned are associated with “sleep paralysis.” I never knew what it was and had no one to ask about it. Luckily, I have not experienced it in the last five years.

My daughter, who is 21, has begun to experience the same symptoms. I have no answers for her questions. When she asked the nurse practitioner about it, she was told only that she would have to go to a sleep clinic for advice. I know how scary this can be. Is there a way to treat sleep paralysis?

A. In sleep paralysis, a person almost wakes up, is aware of the surroundings in the room, but is unable to move or speak. It can be very frightening, but it is not dangerous and doesn’t require treatment. This condition can run in families, so it is not surprising that your daughter is following in your footsteps.

An episode of sleep paralysis usually lasts only seconds and generally disappears with a bed partner’s touch. If the episodes are frequent or troublesome, she might ask the doctor about a prescription antidepressant. According to sleep expert Martin Scharf, Ph.D., such a drug will generally suppress sleep paralysis.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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