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Why Do I Feel Paralyzed Before I Fall Asleep?

Why Do I Feel Paralyzed Before I Fall Asleep?

Sometimes, just before I fall asleep, I feel paralyzed. I can think, but I can't take in air, and when I think about moving, my body won't respond to that thought. What's going on?
- Kayleigh*

Although we can't say what's going on in your particular situation, there is a medical condition known as sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is rare. But it can be scary if the person doesn't know what's happening: Someone with sleep paralysis temporarily loses the ability to speak or move while falling asleep or waking up. This sensation can last for seconds or even a couple of minutes. Some people may also have hallucinations. During an episode of sleep paralysis, people may feel like they can't breathe, but that's not actually the case — a person continues to breathe throughout the episode.

Sleep paralysis can happen just once and never again. But, for a few people, it may be a regular occurrence. Either way, it can be a big relief to know what's happening. That's why the best course of action is to see a doctor and get checked out.

If you do have sleep paralysis, a doctor can help figure out why it's happening. The condition may be linked with one of several things, including another sleep problem known as narcolepsy or certain mental health conditions. A person who is sleep deprived (not getting enough sleep) may be more likely to experience sleep paralysis.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.