How Is Sleep Paralysis Diagnosed?

Reviewed on 6/22/2021

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that causes people to experience a brief loss of muscle control soon after falling asleep or be unable to move when they wake up. Sleep paralysis can be diagnosed with tests such as a sleep study (polysomnography), multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), melatonin sampling, hormone tests, electrocardiogram (“ECG”), and others.
Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that causes people to experience a brief loss of muscle control soon after falling asleep or be unable to move when they wake up. Sleep paralysis can be diagnosed with tests such as a sleep study (polysomnography), multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), melatonin sampling, hormone tests, electrocardiogram (“ECG”), and others.

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder in which people experience a brief loss of muscle control (atonia) that occurs just after falling asleep or upon waking up from sleep and in which they are unable to move their body.

Hallucinations may also occur. It is a type of REM (rapid eye movement) parasomnia, which is an abnormal behavior that happens during sleep

Sleep paralysis is diagnosed with a patient history of sleep patterns and a physical exam, along with tests and procedures to help with diagnosis and to rule out other underlying conditions.  

  • Sleep diary
    • The time you went to bed 
    • Times you woke up during the night
    • When you woke in the morning
    • Tracking the time of day when for exercise, naps, or taking medications – all of these are activities that can affect sleep
    • Caffeine or alcohol intake and times
  • Sleep study (polysomnography) 
    • Patients are attached to monitors that measure: 
      • Brain waves
      • Heart rate
      • Breathing
      • Oxygen levels
      • Leg movements
      • Chin muscle activity
  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) for daytime sleepiness 
    • A full-day test that consists of five scheduled naps separated by two-hour breaks
    • Measures how quickly a person falls asleep in a quiet environment during the day
    • Always done following a sleep study 
  • Actigraphy
    • Records activity and movement with a monitor or motion detector, usually worn on the wrist throughout the day and night 
    • The monitor is worn for a few days up to two weeks
  • Melatonin sampling 
  • Core body temperature measurements 
  • Hormone tests
  • Electrocardiogram (“ECG”) 
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain 
  • Pulmonary function tests

What Are Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis?

Symptoms of sleep paralysis include:

  • Inability to move the body shortly after falling asleep or waking up (atonia)
    • Episodes last from a few seconds to up to 20 minutes, with an average time between six and seven minutes
    • During an episode, a person feels awake and is aware of the loss of muscle control
  • Hallucinations that differ from regular dreams
    • Intruder hallucinations
      • The perception of a dangerous person or presence in the room
    • Chest pressure hallucinations (incubus hallucinations)
      • A feeling of suffocation
      • May occur along with intruder hallucinations
    • Vestibular-motor (V-M) hallucinations
      • Includes feelings of movement (such as flying) or out-of-body sensations
  • Distress
  • Fear

SLIDESHOW

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What Are Causes of Sleep Paralysis?

It is unknown what causes sleep paralysis, but several factors are thought to trigger the condition:

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Reviewed on 6/22/2021
References
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/parasomnias/sleep-paralysis

https://sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders/sleep-paralysis/