9 Ways to Wake Up From Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is the terrifying feeling of being held down after just waking up or going to sleep. You can’t move or scream, and sometimes this paralysis is accompanied with the certainty that someone –or something — is in the room.

Quite simply, sleep paralysis is one of the most horrifying experiences in life, because we feel awake but can’t believe what is happening to us.

The truth is, sleep paralysis is a biological event and there is nothing to be worried about. You’re not dying. It’s a hiccup in the brain’s chemical soup as we transition from sleep to wakefulness. 

Recurrent sleep paralysis can often be prevented by attending to lifestyle choices, but making new habits can take time. 

So how do you wake up from sleep paralysis tonight?

Here I compiled 9 ways to get out now.

Note: Because this is such a personal thing, some of these tactics will work for you, and others won’t. Choose the ones that make the most sense to you intuitively.  Think of these strategies as tools in a toolbox to bring out when the conditions are right. Make a plan and resolve to remember it for the next time you wake up in sleep paralysis.

1. Don’t Fight

If you feel like you are being held down and you can’t move, do not fight back.  This actually will intensify the experience.   Not only is fighting back likely to increase the feelings of being held down (so much that it may seem like you are being crushed), but fighting back will also increase the fear, thus triggering the emotional centers of the brain and strengthening this lucid nightmare. Controlling fear is the most important skill during these moments.

2. Surrender and Go with the Flow

Instead, try to relax when you notice SP starting to happen.  Prepare an affirmation like “This is SP and I am okay.”   If you feel pressure on your chest, see if you can “go with” the pressure rather than against it.  It’s like winning a fight by having no resistance. For example, for me, I often feel like I’m being pushed into the mattress when I have SP.  I let myself go, and mentally “pull” in the direction I am being pushed.  What happens is I then “pop” into a full-on dream, or I can wake up directly.

3. Wiggle your Toe

Another excellent tactic that works for many people is to try to move an extremity, such as a finger or a toe.  Most of the feelings of paralysis are in the belly, chest, and throat.  So focus all you attention on the toe and try to move it back and forth.  In many cases, this will break the paralysis.

4. Clench your Fist

This is a variation of the toe wiggle method.  Clench and unclench your fist.

5. Focus on your Breath

An easy way to stop these nightmares is to do some controlled breathing.  Controlled breathing does several things at once.  For starters, it lessens the feelings of chest pain that sometimes accompany SP. Breathing is autonomic like the heart’s beating or digestion, so it’s not paralyzed like the big muscles in our arms, chest and legs.  But breath can be controlled with attention or be affected by severe fear, which may be why SP sufferers “forget” to breathe when under attack.   If you can control your breath, you can control your fear.  Simply draw your breath in at a normal rate, and exhale fully, using all of your lung capacity.  Notice that you can breathe fully without obstruction. This technique will keep you calm as the SP runs its course and then you will wake up without any trouble.  A few moments of focused breathing with a strong intention to wake up is effective.

6. Lean into Love to Find Courage

Now is also the time to lean into unconditional love.  For many, the surest path is in religious or spiritual beliefs.  Regardless, focus on a figure that you admire and love. Think of someone who calms you down—someone who you associate with peace, love and safety.  This could be Jesus, the Dali Lama, or someone you know personally. In my first SP nightmare when I was fourteen years old, I thought about the love and respect I had for a girl in my class. Embarrassing but true!  It worked: the feelings of oppression and evil dissipated immediately. In this case, true love really does conquer all.

7. Getting Help from your Sleep Partner

If someone shares your bed, you can tell them about your SP attacks and what to look for when you are having a nightmare.  For example, my wife used to shake me awake whenever I began to breath heavily and irregularly in my sleep.  As it turns out, she was waking me up each and every time from an intense SP nightmare.  Now when this happens, I tell her not to wake me up, because I actually use SP to go into a lucid dream.

You could also have your partner respond to a verbal request.  This only works some of the time, because some people cannot speak in paralysis.  But some can.  Choose a short word that is easy to say.  “Help” is a good choice.  When you’re in paralysis, focus your attention on your throat and say “Help.”  Don’t try to say it as loud as you can; what may happen is that your imagination will take over and you will only say the word in your dream.  Instead, say it forcefully but without screaming.

8. Coughing for Help

A variation of using your voice is to try to cough into wakefulness.  Like breathing, coughing can be autonomic or consciously regulated.  By coughing on purpose, you can jar yourself awake.

9. Write out the Plan

The suggestions above all have helped hundreds of people get out of SP and get some sleep.  Not every tactic will work with you.  But having too many tactics in your mind can actually be counterproductive.  So it is important to make a plan, almost like the fire escape plan you may have for evacuating your family home in case of emergency. Write it out; this will cement the plan in your mind and make it easier to remember when the paralysis comes on strong.

10. The Ultimate Method I know — I said 9 ways, but this is the single best way to wake up from sleep paralysis and it’s really in a class of it’s own. When you realize you are in SP, scrunch up your face. In other words, make a face like you just smelled something bad. Snarl and squint. Do this two or three times in a row and the paralysis will break IMMEDIATELY. I’m not sure why it is so effective, but unlike the pinky wiggle, this method is foolproof.

After you wake up, get out of bed immediately and turn on a light. Wash your face with cold water. If you just stay in bed, the chance of sliding right back into sleep paralysis is pretty high.

For more information about preventing sleep paralysis from occurring in the first place, as well as how to get over the fear of SP, check out my Sleep Paralysis Kit.

Sleep-paralysis-book-cover-200This $15 multimedia digital kit also covers the science, psychology, and history of SP, as well as methods for using SP to have lucid dreams and other extraordinary experiences.

The kit includes my original ebook Sleep Paralysis, sleep paralysis management worksheets, and two audio files: my lecture on sleep paralysis at Stanford University, and an in-depth interview with my colleague and sleep paralysis expert Jorge Conesa-Sevilla, PhD.

If you’re needing expert help, you can download the kit immediately and get some rest tonight.

Prefer a book to keep on your bedside table? Sleep Paralysis is also available in print, published by Hyena Press.

CC Image credit: Ornoth @ Flicker.

Comments

  1. Diana says

    I didn’t even know this had a name to it. Although when I am experiencing it I am not able to move anything at all..no pinky or toes. I’ve tried that but I did pick up a few things I haven’t tried. I do suffer from panic attacks so that helps none. Just knowing it’s not as uncommon as I thought, in & of itself, helps tremendously. Thank you for this.

  2. steve says

    Sp happens to me every now and again, i clear my throat and it wakes me up straight away

  3. Rob says

    I used to get SP a lot as a child and occassionally when I was stressed out in college. What I did to get out of it was focus on an external sound such as a fridge turning on, as in the case of in my dorn room, or outside traffic. I admit that this may not work out in the country but this is what has worked for me. It has been years since I experienced SP but I will try the face twitching and throat-clearing should it ever happen again.

  4. Lovely Angelique says

    SP happens to me everytime i take some nap. And during that timd, i know someone was laughing at me, a man i guess. All i do to wake up myself is to wiggle my toe or pray. It helps a lot. Thank you for this. A big help.

  5. Meek says

    I have never experienced sleep paralysis before but have had several experiences in my boyfriends place and nowhere else. The latest one i had was while laying next to my sleeping/snoring bf and sensing someone else was in the room. While struggling to open my eyes and move i could hear heavy footsteps almost scampering away almost like I was interrupting something. I hope it was all in my head but recalling how i could clearly hear my boyfriend next to me and feeling fully alert makes me wonder sometimes.

  6. Diana says

    I hate having this. I always find myself trying to scream. Say help, anything. Nothing works. It’s scary

  7. Robert says

    Ive been suffering SP for a few years now and its frightening, i get it at least once a week but sometimes i get it a few times a night. I just went to put my 5 year old daughter down to sleep there and lay in bed with her and we both fell asleep but i slipped into a SP, i could see the television in the room but couldnt move or talk then i felt my body shaking violently like someone was attacking me and i could hear a sound like violins from a horror movie playing but i knew it was SP and my mind playing tricks on me and after what i believe was no more than a minute i woke up still feeling tired but too afraid to close my eyes again, my daughter was fast asleep beside me. Im thinking of seeing my doctor as its happening a lot and hopefully over space of time i can get rid of these horrible experiences.

  8. Mary says

    Sleep paralysis is so amazing and terrifying at the same time. I’ve been having such experiences since I was a pre-teen. My mom, and I think one of her brothers, have had this happen before. I know my mom and I both use prayer. The first time it happened to me, I tried all the wrong things. I was scared, doing everything to move and fight it, and I would not stop trying to yell. After I prayed, I had a feeling to stay calm, and trust God. It worked! Even though I got through it, I was too scared to sleep in that room for a while, but unfortunately it happened in other rooms. One interesting experience, was when I consciously had my eyes open, but the dream continued around me for a little bit. One of the most terrifying experiences was when I was spinning around and felt my blood pulsing as if I was being stoned from the inside. After a while, I had an experience where a T-Rex skeleton was coming at me. It was then that I learned that I could “scrunch my face” and turn the images black. It was much easier to stay calm without seeing what was around me. The SP experiences left me for quite some time, until this last school year. It started happening quite frequently again. One of my friends told me she had SP experiences, but told me that she did not know how to black it out like I do. I realized that I actually have some power over the state, then. I would wonder, “What other powers can I use during this experience? I thought, “It’s between the unconscious and conscious state, but trying to move consciously isn’t working. Maybe I need to try to use unconscious powers.” Since then, I have experimented a little. Instead of letting fear get to me, I embrace the experience and treat it like a dream. If it gets too scary, I’ll scrunch my face and black it out. Then, it will start again, as if I’d never dreamed that I left my bed. It is a different experience when I do that, though. Who knows what’s going to happen? Today, I tried the third person method. When I focused on the scary creatures, I thought of loved ones. The creatures turned into them, with their harmless characters! It’s just amazing how far I’ve come. Sure, when I have fun with it, it lasts longer, but should I sit in fear, or learn to enjoy it. I hope other people can learn to enjoy and control it, too. :)

  9. Ciaran says

    This may sound weird but does anyone else experience pain as they break the SP. I’ve been getting SP for a while now and have become pretty good at getting myself out but every time I exit the paralysis I get blinding, throbbing head pains. I can’t tell if this is just hallucinated or if this is pain caused by the energy I’m using or whatever. Just wondered if anyone else experiences/ knows about this

  10. Alex Audrey says

    It happens to me when i lay on my back. I just count to three then i make myself jump up. My heart rate increases alot but it works. Anyways ive learned not to sleep on my back now.

  11. Becky says

    Something like this happened to me about 20 years ago. It was horrifying. I was sure it was evil. It started out like a train was just outside my bedroom window with the roaring and violent earth shaking. Once it felt as if my bed was being violently shaken by some force. Just as everyone states I could not move or scream as hard as I tried. I did not want to go to sleep. I thought I was going insane. As I said nothing in 20 years until recently, I had a different episode. The other night it felt as if someone had crawled into the bed with me, on occassion my daughter will. But the very strange thing was that it felt like someone laying on me! It was so errie. I didn’t have to struggle quite as hard to wake up, but did have some difficulty. My daughter was not in my room. Now a few hours ago I had to lay down with back pain and had a horrible time trying to awake from feeling like someone was at my door, then pulling at me like trying to wake me up. WOW!! I hate this.

  12. Andreas says

    I experienced SP (i believe it was) last week in my Holidays in one of the Nights. We lived in an old House from the 1600 century which was out of stone.
    The Dream began like this: In my back was a person, a little girl and she lived some hundred years ago, she stood between the bed and the window looking at my back, her face was covered with shadow. From there I was falling into a mode where the environment was very psychodelic (like rushing of particles or something, difficult to describe exactly). In this mode I felt the gravity of my body pressed into my bed very hard and I wasn’t able to move and because I wasn’t able to move, I was afraid the person behind me could hurt me while I am completely paralyzed. Then I decided not to fall into this mode again.
    After that I woke up and thought: that was very interessting.

  13. Jason says

    I have suffered from this since I was a child but didn’t know what it was until now, thank you internet. My method had always been to close my eyes count to three and use every bit of energy to sit straight up. I have a hard time breathing when I have an episode so a sense of panic always would start to set in and that’s how I learned to wake up. I sometimes can control my dreams and also dream very vividly sometimes this is heaven but sometimes it’s also hell. Learning to control your fears and emotions really does help you control your dreams and ultimately your mind, thank you for sharing all this information as it makes me feel better that I’m not alone.

  14. Anthony says

    I wouldn’t suggest “going with the flow”. I’ve had well over 1000 sleep paralysis incidents. When I don’t resist, it takes me full on and i see, hear, and feel demonic entities. I’ve never researched any of it, and learned through experience. It amazes me that I’ve been able to identify it as sleep paralysis on my own, and I learned many aspects about how it happens and why solely through experience. I truly believe this is demonic warfare. I understand it is possible to be the brain causing it all due to uncontrollable fear and being in a half-asleep state, but so many experiences has really shown me to believe the latter. I only googled this because I just several hours ago awoke from an attack. When i was young, I used to be in wrestling, and starved myself to cut weight. I was malnourished and depressed, and did marijuana to help myself cope. I was already anxiety ridden and pretty psychotic. I had sleep paralysis every time i went to sleep, and it put me through hell. i had no idea what was happening, and i was constantly under attack by demons. It grew to the point where i didnt have to even be sleeping to be attacked. Nobody listened to me, and nobody believed me. I just grew more experienced with it over time and long thought. I tortured myself and would inflict pain upon myself everyday, trying to make myself invulnerable to pain. I did so much to myself that nothing scared me or could hurt me. it was a bad lifestyle, and i eventually aged and convinced myself it was all in my head and over time it all just slipped away. That didnt stop the sleep paralysis though. I’ve always been an extremely light sleeper because of all of that. i barely even fall asleep unless i’m really exhausted. I often feel the sensation of falling into sleep paralysis. if you’ve experienced it more than once, then you know it too. My trick is to very forcefully shake your head left and right, like you’re saying “No”. It’s really hard to do, often you get the feeling of wanting to give up because it’s absolutely incredibly tough to move. But you will slowly but surely make movement little by little. Assuming you sleep on your back, rocking your head like this will allow gravity to help pull your head each time you rock it, and you will begin to make more and more movement. As long as you are making this movement you cannot fall into sleep paralysis. If you stop for more than 5-10 seconds, prepare fore a ride. But if you keep doing it, you will in no time rock so much that the physical movement itself will wake you right up. I havent fallen into a sleep paralysis state in over 5 years using this method. But last night… I was having weird nightmares. During, i’d feel a sleep paralysis come on, and i’d do what i do which has worked 100% of the time every time for me, an when i’d wake up, i’d wake up in another nightmare. this happened about 8 times jumping through nightmares, each one giving hints and clues as to what was happening. In the last nightmare, my cousin woke me in my room and (still in the nightmare) and i was gasping for air and falling down curling up an trembling telling him if he ever sees me sleeping to just wake me up, and i told him he needs to turn on my light, an i went for the light and reached up and my body froze and i fell into a blanket. it wrapped around me and was covering my face, and i was calling out to him, “the light, the light” but it was like if you try to talk during paralysis and my voice couldnt go louder than a whisper despite my efforts. that’s when i called out to God and said, “Jesu..” and i felt something cover my mouth, in the dream and in reality, and the words were muffled. I felt something mount me, and hips press into me. I felt like something was about to try to fuck me, and i panicked hard. i shook my head like i normally do to wake myself up and i actually woke up. i looked on top of me, and there was a black shadowy figure. it was blurry, and transparent, looking like a how you would imagine a futuristic invisible camouflage, but very visibly black. i let out a loud yelp and got up and it just sat there. i turned on the light and it dissipated, and i could see remnants of it, looking like energy or a magnetic field around my bed. My heart was pounding so hard. I’ve never felt it pound that hard. I’ve lived without this for a long time now. It was scary. Absolutely terrifying. So i’m googling it a little, to see what information others have from their experience. I feel like things are going to get worse for me, and i’m pretty scared, because this is out of the blue after over 5 years of no incidents, and it locked me in my nightmares and my methods of resisting that have always been extremely reliable had no effect. I hope others can use my method to save themselves from these experiences.

  15. Chad Watson says

    I’d love to see the research regarding the imbalance of the *chemical soup” of our brains that cause SP, as was mentioned. I’ve been going through SP since I was about 15 and it is very frightening. I wonder if this is how it feels when you start to fade away when on death’s door. I often feel if I let go , I won’t come back.

  16. Carter says

    I just got one of these nightmares 10 minutes ago which made me do a little research due to the fact that I was too scared to go to bed.

    I woke, I could move my finger, and I could only think what I wanted to say. I wasn’t even saying it in my dream portion of SP. But, I felt something right in front of me, attacking a bag and all I wanted to do was ask “what do you want”, yell “DAD”, or for “help”. Nothing came though. I finally tried really hard and grunted, but like a horse almost, and that was what woke me up. What really has me scared though is just 30 seconds after being awake, the home phone rang upstairs and I heard my dad go check to see who it was. It was 4:08 in the morning which is why I asked him (texted him) and he said the caller iD said “unavailable”. Why did our phone ring 30 seconds after I woke up at 4:08 in the morning. What are those chances? What if I would have hit SP 5 minutes later. Would the phone still have rang? This is what’s scaring me the most.

  17. Queen says

    I’ve suffered from what I know now to be “SP” since I was about nine and I’m thirty six now. It often happens most when I’m extremely tired-attempting to stay in bed longer than normal. I’m always on my back when this happens. When I was younger I would fight in my dream trying to awake. I’ve learned over the years to calm down and control my breathing. Trying to focus on moving some part of my body normally works and I awake. Ive also learned to never go back to sleep because it always happens again when I do. It is a terrifying experience that I fear will never end. I just pray my children never have this EVER in life.

  18. sohaib says

    i dont know is it sleep paralysis or something else.
    i feel like i m awake bt feel so tired or helpless i saw dat i cant even take down sliva fm my throat.
    its really terrifying, plz help me out how to get back fm it or if dere is som medication relating to it…

  19. Saad Sayed says

    I have been experiencing SP since more than a year now. At first I though these were just nightmares. But this continued happeneing.. Everytime I was really exhausted and fell asleep I had SP. It always occurs when I sleep on my back. Everytime I wake up I am panting heavily and sweating. I experience the same as most of the people on here, I cant move or shout and feel something heavy sitting on my chest, I cant breathe properly and everything else. The only thing is I am not able to try any of the techniques mentioned in this article.. Since, when i’m in SP I can not control anything. I have no idea how I wake up!! And this terrifies me..

    What terrifies me most is I always see a black shadow with red eyes! This shadow is of a tall man wearing a coat and a hat.. and all I can make out of his appearance is his red eyes, NOTHING ELSE! I always thought that this shadow must be of a presence in my room at home. But i was wrong… I went for a vacation to a hillstation with my friends recently and it happened again! I was lying on my back and I slipped in to SP.. I could see him again! staring right at me! this time my friend woke me up and as usual I was panting hard and was sweating..

    The other incident when I saw him was when I slipped into SP and I was yelling out to my dad.. I’m not to sure if I was awake or if I was sleeping.. but i felt something heavy on my chest.. I couldnt breathe nor could I shout but I know I was shouting for my dad.. finally my dad came into my room worried (I thought that this was actually happening!) but it wasnt! I was still in my dream.. and as my dad came near me.. the curtain rod came off the wall n hit my dad on the head! I was terrified and dad was’nt waking up! I looked on my right and I saw him again sitting right next to me staring at me with his red eyes!

    These incidents happened a few months back, after which we called in a holy person to bless the house.. ever since these incidents have stopped happening to me.. But recently, this has been happening to my sister in her room! and just 2 days back happened to me again..

    The incident which I experienced 2 days back was something entirely different and something bizarre! I was at work and my cousin brother was sleeping alone at home in my room. I do a night shift so im up all night working. In between my shift I felt very sleepy so I took a break and went down to my car to take a nap.. I fell asleep at around 2:30 AM and kept waking up in intervals, when it happened.. I slipped into SP again.. I saw a dream that I was in the car and again couldnt move or scream.. the car was in motion and me being at the drivers seat could not move or control it.. I look behind and I see the same cousin brother sitting in the back seat of the car.. we are both struggling to get the car open and wer terrified and cant do anything about it.. and just before the car is about to crash I look behind and my cousin is laughing at me.. and i wake up!! I was terrified and called my friend down to the car.. he reached there in seconds.. I explained to him what I saw… and then at exactly 2:58AM I get a text from my cousin.. He texted me “bro” and I replied “dont tell me u saw a nightmare”… He was SHIT scared! He got up and ran outta my room.. he did not say a word till he was out of the house.. he explained what he saw… and guess what.. it was the EXACT SAME DREAM! and it was just the two of us in the car.. and we woke up at the same time!

    I really dont know what this is.. is it SP or is there really something of a spirit in my house.. I really need help on this everyone at home is worried..

    This has been worrying me a lot lately and I am not even keeping well cause of this. Please let me know if someone else has experienced something like this or is it just me?

  20. susie says

    One night I fell asleep while watching tv, on my back (which btw, I NEVER sleep on my back), and on the edge of the bed as well. As I woke up from the middle of the night, I felt something push my head into the mattress; only lasted for a few seconds. I just felt the presence that someone was in the room with me. My house used to be really eerie and I would always hear footsteps and all that other kind of wacky stuff. But then it stopped. I never payed mind to it though. Ever since then I fall asleep while listening to music, on my stomach, and facing the wall. It’s really relaxing and I never experienced that terrible thing again. I feel like listening to music while sleeping helps A LOT. It also interferes with your dreams as well. Most of my dreams consist of parties, concerts, and happy enviornments because of the music being played. If you’re scared to fall asleep, just put on your earphones and on to dream land you go.