There has been little scientific investigation into methods for treating or coping with sleep paralysis. However, based on the research that is available, we can make informed suggestions about how sleep paralysis may be managed.
Probably the best advice that can be given is to try and adopt a regular sleeping pattern. Research indicates that a dysfunctional sleep/wake cycle may be a mediating factor in sleep paralysis, and experiments have even shown that disruption of people’s sleeping patterns can directly induce the state. With these research findings in mind, it would be sound advice to try to adopt a sleeping pattern with strict times of going to bed and waking up. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided close to bedtime, as these have been shown to disrupt the sleep cycle. Obviously this method is not suitable for everyone. Work and other commitments may make it impossible to set strict times for going to bed and waking up each day. If sleep paralysis attacks cannot be prevented, it is possible to develop effective coping strategies to employ should an attack occur. A number of such strategies have been suggested, although their efficacy has not been tested systematically. Different methods seem to work for different people. Sleep paralysis attacks end when the paralysis is broken – this may happen naturally, or by being shaken awake by a partner. Some popular management techniques include:
- Some people find it helpful to disassociate themselves from the attack. Rather than allowing themselves to become immersed in the attack, they adopt a third person stance, observing their body and perceived environment as objectively as possible. Focusing on noticing and analysing details of the attack can make the experience less overwhelming and immersive.
- Many people find that of they can avoid sleeping on their back the chance of an attack is much reduced.
- Many people find that staying calm is the most important thing to remember during a sleep paralysis attack. It has been suggested that remembering and understanding what is happening and – as much as possible – trying to relax and breathe normally can reduce the length and intensity of an attack.
- Some people are able to control their breathing or make small noises during an attack and can use this to break it either by alerting a partner, fully waking themselves, holding their breath for a short period or intentionally breathing with increasing speed and heaviness, making firm noises until the paralysis is broken.
- Concentrating intensely on moving one small muscle, such as a finger, can lead to a tiny movement which can break the paralysis and end the attack.