People Who Suffer From Sleep Paralysis Describe Exactly What It's Like

Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During this time, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Sleep researchers conclude that, in most cases, sleep paralysis is simply a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through sleep stages.

That doesn't make it any less frightening however.

Reddit users the_yarb and aleks_1999 asked those "who have experienced sleep paralysis, what is the feeling and what are your first thoughts when it occurs?"

Here are the chilling responses.


I woke up and couldn't move. I had never heard of sleep paralysis, so it was pretty scary.

It wasn't quite as terrifying as I've seen some descriptions of, but I guess results vary. It went through my head that I might be dying and I just kind-of told myself "oh well, eff it, doesn't look like I can do anything about it" so I went back to sleep.

Not sure if it means I have no will to live, or if I'm some sort of zen bad-ass. It was an interesting experience to say the least, wouldn't recommend.


I've had it happen enough times that I understand what's happening, but every time I still panic and try to wake myself up. I wish I had a zen attitude about it, but my heart starts racing (at least I feel like it does).

I'll wake myself up, open my eyes and think to myself, "whew, thank god that's over", then I'll notice something that's a little off in my room, like the lighting is wrong, or an object isn't where it usually is, and then the realization that I'm still stuck and can't move kicks in and I freak out, and try to wake myself up.

I've "woken myself up" about 6 or 7 times in one sleep paralysis session before, and everything looks so real and vivid, except for a few details, I fall for thinking I'm awake every time.

And when I finally do become awake for real, I spend at least half the morning questioning if I'm still asleep or not. It's kinda freaky


My experience seems to be different from most people. I woke up, could breathe fine, nothing hurt. It was just like waking up, except I couldn't move. It was like my muscles had suddenly grown very weak and I couldn't even lift my own arms.

It was scary my first time, especially because I started lucid dreaming soon after, but didn't know how to control it, which ended in probably the worst, most realistic nightmare I've ever had.

The second time, however, I actually managed to break out of sleep paralysis. I realized what was happening to me, and so I relaxed for a moment but made sure I didn't fall asleep again. Then, I just started thinking about other things. I started thinking about how thirsty I was, so I focused all of my energy into lifting my head so I could get some water. It took some concentration- It felt like I would be able to lift my head easily, but that power seemed... distant. It was like extreme laziness. I wanted to move, but just couldn't force myself to get up. However, I eventually managed to lift my head, and then my arms followed, and soon I was up. It took a long time though- it's a lot faster to just fall back asleep.


I get sleep paralysis a few times a month, and it tends to happen when I am stressed and overly tired.

The first time it happened, I knew what it was and so I was not scared. I did not experience any presences or fear, I just could not move. I have to concentrate very hard on moving one small part of my body - usually clenching and unclenching my toes is easiest, and then I can fully move again.

After a bout of sleep paralysis, I have to at least roll over in bed. If I stay in the same position and fall back asleep, it will happen again within the next half hour, and continue to happen every half hour until I roll over or get frustrated and just get up.

Classroom Nightmare

A weird thing I have noticed is I usually encounter the 'scarier' experiences when I have been sleeping for a longer time. It happens to me so often that every now and then it will happen to me when I doze off in class at school. I will do what I usually do and do the countdown and try to get up with all my strength and by the time it works instead of just waking up like a usual person would I would dramatically shoot up from my head down on the desk and people all get scared around me.


This happens to me a lot actually, usually about 3-4 times a month. I've learned to adjust to it. Now its more of a "F* not this again"

To describe it in my experience for other people who have never had it. Imagine a time in life where you were too scared to move, Or even had one of those dreams where you try to run but can't. It's that exact feeling, but it's real and you can't move or speak. You are stuck in place while the world around you is dark and strange noises creep into your ears. You start wondering if you are dreaming but you know in the back of your mind that you are awake and this isn't just another dream. You feel your entire body as if it were filled with lead and your blanket had turned to steel and encapsulated you. You are a prisoner in your own body, your only escape is hoping you can calm down enough to return to the safety of your dream, this waking nightmare is hopefully only temporary and fleeting fast. Once it's over you fear it's return, the haunting feeling of being so helpless and vulnerable with no obvious signs it could happen the next night, and then the next, and the next...

When it first started I was absolutely terrified every single time and would cry. I lost a lot of sleep in school due to fear of having another case of it. Eventually I learned tricks how to wake myself up.

Prelude to Night Terrors?

I go between hallucinations and being aware that I'm in sleep paralysis.

It gets really nightmarish when I go through a cycle of waking up from a dream into another and I tell my hands to move and they do but not in the real world.

It takes screaming and all my strength just to move the slightest bit or let out a groan to tell my girlfriend to shake me awake.

My dad has night terrors and screams in his sleep with constant nightmares, I'm hoping that doesn't start happening to me.


I actually woke up in sleep paralysis once, opened my eyes, realized what's happening (it happened numerous times before), saw a figure or entity on the chair near my bed and didn't think much of it. I kind of reacted like it was normal or like didn't want to do any harm, and went back to sleep...

Another time I felt like I started to float, and even something pulling me out. I guess I was close to an Out of Body Experience (OBE), but got scared and woke up when I felt I was dragged (or at least that was my impression/imagination).

These things happened a lot more frequently when I was meditating daily

Creeping Dread

I've been having sleep paralysis for years, several times a week, and personally, the first time it happened was extremely scary. Kicking, screaming, clawing for anyone to help me only to hear my muffled moans when I'd float out of the dream state and always finding myself in the same position I "fell asleep" in despite KNOWING that I moved to try to wake up or clawed someone for help.

Personally it happens so often that I know when it's coming. Usually just feels like I can't move my toes at first, and I begin feeling this dread come over me. I usually try to close my eyes, knowing that panicking will only push me further into it. I continuously wiggle my toes, knowing that I only THINK they're moving, until my blanket moves from the shaking then I usually get up out of bed and move around. Or go in my phone and completely change my state of mind. I've never had an experience less than terrifying so I'd have to say fear is my first reaction/thought.


So, I'll just go over one of the worst episodes I had when I was younger. I was falling asleep listening to a podcast out loud on my phone.

When I "woke up" I was looking at the bottom right corner of my room. There were 4 figures that appeared to be talking in a circle. I couldn't understand what they were saying. I honestly thought they were here to kill me. All the sudden I could make out what one of them was saying. "shhhh, he's awake" and they all looked at me.

I gained control of my body again and ran out of my room. Didn't go back for a few nights.

Over Tired

For me, it's quite like still being in a dream but being aware of it, not 100% conscious. I was told to just go back to sleep and my body would wake up naturally. I used this method for years, but "woke up" after falling asleep in the car with my brother and a couple of friends with my mom driving one night. I remember feeling safe, and just laying there, listening to everyone talk. I eventually woke up but was able to go back to sleep and repeat the process a couple of times.

It happened a couple of weeks ago, and my girlfriend was sitting next to me in the bed watching TV. She said I often kick my legs around, which I recall trying to do to wake up, but couldn't feel them moving. I remember trying to talk to her, but all she could hear is "whimpering".

I could be wrong, but I recall a doctor explaining that as your mind incorporates surrounding stimuli into your dreams to prevent you from waking up when you need the sleep, this seems to be related to when I am exhausted and not getting enough rest.

3rd Time Is No Charm

Happened three times in one night. BOY WAS IT A STRESSFUL DAY

First time I "woke up", I couldn't open my eyes. Or move. at first i was like "oh cool sleep paralysis, I've heard about it, might be fun".

But then I heard footsteps from the hall into my room. I'm not a very religious man, but have I ever prayed so much. Immediately after that, I woke up, extremely sweaty. Took a while to calm down, then fell asleep.

Then I "woke up" for the second time, nothing special, couldn't move at all, realized what was happening, then just decided to sleep.

Third time I "woke up" I heard a distant laughter in my bedroom. I just prayed some more and woke myself up crying. After that I just didn't sleep and pulled an all-nighter, while being very very scared.

Not Enough Air

I wake up feeling like my face is in the pillow. My hands are trapped underneath me. I am trying to move them, but they don't work.

Maybe I can rock my shoulders back and forth and the arms will come loose. But I can't. I'm starting to panic. I just can't get enough air.

I try feebly to call out to my wife next to me, just so she'll give me a little push. Please wake up just once. But what noise I can make, if any, is not going to be heard by sleeping beauty. I try to relax. I haven't died the other hundreds of times this has happened, but I sure would like a little more air.

Dream Induced

I get this regularly, and how it happens can vary pretty significantly. I tend to suffer from pretty bad nightmares, so the worst cases are when I'm trapped in a really negative dream and it feels like my whole mind is trying to suck itself out of there but my body isn't responding.

Sometimes I have trouble breathing. From there, a lot of the times I manage to make one violent jerking movement of sitting or lurching up in bed (I sleep on my back).

There have been times though where I wasn't able to actually wake up and fell back into a nightmare.

There have been times where I thought that there was another person or at least...presence in the room with me. I am confused if these were very vivid dreams, hallucinations or actual encounters with spirits. I am not a firm believer in that stuff but I'm not ruling it out.

I once thought that a demon or something was sitting on my chest and guiding my dreams into bad places as I fought to wake up and push it off. That is one of the more surreal things I have ever encountered during sleep paralysis, and it is terrifying on different levels. My mind could've been creating the demon dream to rationalize my labored breathing, or maybe I'm just losing it slowly.


I was in bed, thankfully not alone. I heard the front door open and close, and could feel someone getting closer. I couldn't so much as hear the footsteps, but I could feel them and the presence.

I tried to speak to my spouse to wake him, because I was afraid, and couldn't. At this point I realized it was sleep paralysis, and after that is was just really cool, to experience my body do something that I shouldn't have experienced at all. I tried to move, and couldn't, and just found that to be so awesome.

It took a few moments after that to fully wake.


13 year old me woke up and couldn't move like how you'd expect. I had a TV that was at the end of my bed, and I just remember a black figure crawling out like the girl in the ring, except it started crawling on the ceiling. as it got above me, I blinked and it seemed to teleport over by my left side, then looked at me for five seconds or so.

It all ended right after that. I just remember going down stairs crying hard as I explained it to my mom. It was awful.

Only time it's ever happened. Scared to death that it'll happen again.

Prescription Induced

I had this for a few years while take some serious antipsychotic meds. It's hell. The first time it happened I couldn't move but I thought I was screaming and couldn't understand why my husband wasn't helping me. I ended up in a full blown, can't breathe panic attack before it ended.

Every time after that I'd panic but try to talk myself down from a full blown panic attack, sometimes it worked, other times not so much. It didn't help matters that I always experienced this immediately following night terrors that left me terrified and traumatized.

It hasn't happened in a few years but it's not a feeling I'll ever forget.


I'm startled awake by either a sound or a tactile sensation, like something bumping my bed, pulling my hair.

I think at first that I am frozen in fright from being startled until I try to move but can't. At that point I usually know what is happening but sometimes not.

I'm also then aware of a faceless shadowy man in my room. Sometimes he physically attacks me, other times he just stands ominously in the doorway. Even knowing it's a hallucination doesn't make it feel less real in the moment. I hate it so much.

Dry Drowning

I couldn't breathe any more than these tiny, unfulfilling breaths and as I panicked I felt like I needed more and more air but couldn't get it.

Like drowning out of water.

Also could not speak to call for help, even though my boyfriend was sleeping a foot away.

Family Tradition

I've had sleep paralysis my whole life, but I didn't understand what it was until a few years ago when I googled it.

I usually get it either right before I'm going to fall asleep, or waking up from a nightmare. For me, the sensation is like being smothered while falling, and I'm uncomfortably warm. When I'm falling asleep, it isn't too bad. I'll get auditory hallucinations, like hearing someone laugh (not a creepy laugh, just regular laughter) or talk, or a crashing noise like something fell off my desk.

The episodes I get following nightmares are the worst. Usually it starts with that falling feeling as I'm coming out of the dream. When I open my eyes, I usually have a visual hallucination.

Shadows coming towards me, three figures with red eyes looming over my head, my door opening, things like that.

The worst I've ever had was when there was a hunched over impish figure with bulbous eyes and fangs just staring at me. I couldn't move. His mouth wasn't moving, but it was like I could hear him whispering really awful things in my head. I remember the feeling of panic was overwhelming and I wanted to scream but I just couldn't move.

After that I had really bad anxiety when it came to falling asleep, so I did a lot of research and learned that people who sleep on their back are more likely to experience sleep paralysis. Ever since I started sleeping on my side, I haven't had an episode. I literally can't fall asleep in any other position now because it makes me nervous. I also learned that apparently my father had it, but he doesn't like to speak about his experiences.

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