Sleep Paralysis Is Terrifying. Here's What You Can Actually Do About It

If you've regularly seen 'the hat man', you might want to read this.
vorDa via Getty Images

If you’re someone who sleeps like a baby through the night, only waking to give a cutesy, Sleeping Beauty-style yawn before slipping back into a deep slumber, then I feel happy for you. Truly – I’m not being sarcastic at all.

OK, maybe I’m a little bitter because I’ve had experiences where I’ve been half-asleep, half-awake, seeing things moving around in my bedroom and being absolutely terrified. It’s called sleep paralysis.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is when you may feel awake, but like you can’t move, speak or open your eyes. Scary, right?

It’s characterised by a brief loss of muscle control, according to The Sleep Foundation – and tends to happen just after falling asleep or waking up.

In addition to this, people often experience hallucinations. Sometimes you can see someone in your room – many people have described the figure as ’the hat man!’ – or feel like something is pushing you down.

The feeling can last up to several minutes, but it’s different for every person, and time can feel warped when you’re in that half-asleep stage.

Apparently, it’s a fairly common sleep problem. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reckons around 5-40% of us experience it, and you’re more likely to see the night demons if someone in your family does, too.

Risk factors for sleep paralysis include not getting enough sleep – ironic if you’re terrified of being paralysed! – mental stress, PTSD and sometimes, sleeping on your back.

So, what’s the solution?

If sleep paralysis is taking over your life – for example, making you too anxious or scared to go to sleep, and as a result you’re feeling tired all the time – speak to your doctor about your worries.

In extreme cases, you can be referred to a specialist sleep clinic where they’ll observe you overnight and give you tools to combat it.

Aiming to get seven to nine hours of good sleep a night is also advised, so work on your sleep hygiene if you’re struggling.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is another tool that can be used to combat the stress and anxiety that might be causing your sleepless nights.

What shouldn’t you do? Sleep on your back or eat a heavy meal before bed, according to the NHS.

There you have it. Sleep paralysis can feel debilitating at times, but with a few lifestyle tweaks, you can at least work on preventing the issue. Happy dreaming!