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Isolated sleep paralysis

Definition

Isolated sleep paralysis (ISP) is a type of paralysis that occurs when a person just goes to sleep or upon waking from sleep. It is not associated with another sleep disorder.

Alternative Names

Sleep paralysis - isolated; Parasomnia - isolated sleep paralysis; ISP

Causes

ISP often begins in the teens and can be triggered by lack of sleep. Some young adults with anxiety disorder can also be affected by ISP.

Other triggers may include:

  • Mental stress
  • Sleeping on the back
  • Not having a regular sleep schedule

Symptoms

Episodes of ISP last from a few seconds to 1 or 2 minutes, often upon waking up from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs. During ISP episodes, the person is unable to move or speak, but is aware of their surroundings. Breathing is not affected. These spells end on their own or when the person is touched or moved. In rare cases, the person may have dream-like sensations or hallucinations, which may be scary to them.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will ask about your symptoms, focusing on your sleep habits and things that may affect your sleep. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your sleep to help your provider reach a diagnosis.

Sleep paralysis can be a symptom of narcolepsy. But if you do not have other symptoms of narcolepsy, there is usually no need to have sleep studies done.

Treatment

In most cases, isolated sleep paralysis occurs so rarely that treatment is not needed. If the cause is known, for example, due to lack of sleep, correcting the cause by getting enough sleep often resolves the condition.

Sometimes, medicines that prevent REM during sleep are prescribed.

In persons with mental health conditions, such as anxiety, medicine and behavioral therapy (talk therapy) to help treat the mental health condition may resolve sleep paralysis.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Discuss your condition with your provider if you have repeated episodes of ISP. They may be due to a medical problem that needs further testing.

References

Sharpless BA. A clinician's guide to recurrent isolated sleep paralysis. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016;12:1761-1767. PMC ID: 4958367 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4958367.

Silber MH, St. Louis EK, Boeve BF. Rapid eye movement sleep parasomnias. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 103.

Review Date:4/12/2017
Reviewed By:Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, VA New Jersey Health Care System, Clinical Assistant Professor, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Health Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

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