Sleep paralysis affects about 20% of people, such as this woman sitting up in bed in the morning in her bright bedroom
Comfier Sleep by Alex Irving 3 minutes

What is sleep paralysis? And what are sleep demons? We find out

There are lots of things that can mess with us getting a good night’s sleep. Some of them we can control, like when we go to bed or how long we spend doom scrolling. Others are totally out of our control, like sleep paralysis and sleep demons. Yikes.

We’re not sure about you, but we don’t like the sound of anything getting in the way of our sleep or our sanity. So we decided to take a look at what causes sleep paralysis and sleep demons and what you might be able to do to prevent them from happening. 

What is sleep paralysis?

While you may not have experienced it yourself, you’ve most likely heard of someone that’s had sleep paralysis and seen demons in the night. But what exactly are these two phenomena? We spoke with sleep and clinical psychologist Andrew Mair to get a deeper understanding of these night-time terrors.

“Sleep paralysis and sleep demons are two types of phenomena known as parasomnias. They both occur while we’re asleep. While they are quite common, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for those experiencing them.”

Sleep paralysis happens just as you’re waking up or as you’re falling asleep. You feel physically paralysed, unable to move or speak. You may be able to hear what’s happening around you, and you’re aware of where you are, but you can’t communicate. 

In most cases, while it can be an alarming (or even terrifying) experience, sleep paralysis isn’t physically dangerous.

“Sleep paralysis could be described as an imperfect transition from being in a deep sleep to being awake,” explains Andrew. “As you begin the process of falling asleep or waking up, the transition is not fully complete, and you get stuck between the two. It can feel like a long period of time when, in reality, it’s only a few moments.”

What are sleep demons?

Sleep demons, or sleep-related hallucinations as Andrew refers to them, are something different to sleep paralysis, but the two often happen in conjunction.

Sleep-demon sufferers experience hallucinations where they hear, see, feel or sense something in their bedrooms that isn’t there. Episodes of sleep paralysis sometimes involve hallucinations too.

Sleep demons and sleep paralysis have been described and recorded throughout history in literature and the arts, depicting different demons and creatures that visit people in their sleep. We’ve seen the pictures, and they aren’t pretty.

Research shows that roughly 20% of people have an episode of sleep paralysis at least occasionally, and in 75% of these episodes, the sleeper has a hallucination. So they’re a lot more common than you might think.

What causes sleep paralysis and sleep demons?

“Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what causes them,” says Andrew. “During certain stages of sleep, your body naturally goes into a temporary state of paralysis. So paralysis during sleep is normal, but you’re usually unaware of it because you’re asleep at the time.

“With sleep paralysis and sleep demons, you are between the stages of sleep and wakefulness, so that awareness is there, and that’s what can be scary.”

Things sleep paralysis may be linked to:

〰️ Not getting enough sleep.

〰️ Irregular sleep patterns.

〰️ Family history of sleep paralysis.

〰️ Anxiety disorders.

What can you do if you experience sleep paralysis or demons?

We might not know the exact cause, but here are some things you can do to potentially reduce the risk of having an episode:

〰️ Get enough sleep, between 7 and 9 hours for most adults.

〰️ Stick to a regular bedtime routine.

〰️ Reduce caffeine consumption.

〰️ Create a relaxing atmosphere.

〰️ Be mindful of the temperature in your room.

〰️ Reduce alcohol consumption.

〰️ Avoid big meals before bed.

Sleep paralysis isn’t dangerous in most cases, but if you’re worried, speak with your doctor about your concerns. And if you think your sleep is being affected by an illness or injury, check out this article for tips on what you can do. 

Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep

Need help creating a calm and cosy bedroom set-up? At Koala, we have everything you need.

We may not have the cure for sleep paralysis and demons in the night, but we’re on a mission to help give you the best night’s sleep we can. So, how can we help you? The Koala range of beds, bedding and mattresses won’t disappoint.

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