wondering if there is a medical term for this

Ok- this is the third time I have tried posting this so i hope it didn’t go through the other times and is wondering around somewhere-if so I apologise.
Every day this week I have been woke up because I am not breathing-which i believe is called a sleep apnea, But When I initialy wake up I can’t move at all, not even to breathe. It takes a few seconds before I can beathe. SO in short its like being paralised and suffocating at the same time. Medical here is closed til monday-so i can’t go into a doc just yet, so i thougt I would try here to see if anyone had any thoughts.

this sounds like sleep paralysis.

you’re still kind of asleep, but your mind is waking up faster than your body. by a few seconds or a few minutes, or whatever.

i get this a lot, and it feels soo freaking real, like i’m awake (especially because (as i’m waking) i tend to dream i’m in bed, and going from dreaming room to actually awake room is so seamless, that there’s no clear cut off). sometimes i can’t breath; other times i can’t move, but i can’t make any noise except the gentle rush of an exhalation. the latter’s really frightening.

i’m positive that this isn’t sleep apnea (please see my subject line), because apnea is characterized by frequent interruptions throughout the night, and you don’t remember waking up at all.

from what you describe (and guessing, based on what i’ve experienced), you are waking up this way and remembering waking up. and you’re either waking up for the day (or from a nap) and staying up, or else you go back to sleep (when you could easily get up and have had enough sleep) but still remember.

sorry if that’s too parenthesesy,


When this Happens I don’t go back to sleep I am to freaked out LOL
I agree its very freaking scary-I don’t like not being able to breathe. I am seriously afraid that I won’t be able to “force” myself to breathe one of these times. Whish is why I am going to a doctor soon.
Sleep paralysis- thats just scary, not that normal parylisis isn’t but still:eek:

…but I am a respiratory therapist and I agree with jb that it isn’t sleep apnea per se. Get yourself to a doc and in the meantime GOOGLE has oodles of information for you to study. Put sleep paralysis into the search engine and educate yourself.

I’d also check back here frequently because we have some very knowldegable medics who post here. Just keep in mind that it’s Easter weekend, and everyone’s busy at Gramma’s. :slight_smile:

Good luck and let us know how it goes.


About 6 months ago the BBC here in UK screened a program all about sleep anapea.Many of the suffers would wake in dreamstate and find an old haggered and wrinkly women sitting on their chests.Very freaky, they even found writings and scriptues dating back 500 years stating this old women.They did many tests with would be volunties being monitered for weeks.Whenever it happened the patients REM would go mental, off the scale.Its all caused by problems with dreamstate.But they could not explain why so many people had the same vision of this old lady sitting on their chests.It scared the sh*t out of me.I feel for you buddy…

What you’re having is called a hypnopompic experience. If you hallucinate an old woman sitting on your chest when you wake up, that would be a hypnopompic hallucination.

Wow- thats seriously freaky- No hallucination though
Just wake up not breathing and can’t move at all(my eyes are closed still so i couldn’t see anything anyway) If I saw anything on my chest I am afraid I would flip out.

Uh, jb_farley, Merriam-Webster on line two. Don’t know what they want, but they sound pissed. :wink:

You guys are parenthetic!!! :smiley:



read Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World for insight into this phenomenon. I have had the same thing happen to me countless times, and it used to scare the sh** out of me until i read the book.

Deadly Nightlight part of what you are experiencing is normal i think.
Being awake and not being able to move happens often to me and it just means that your mind woke up but your body still didn’t.
While one is asleep his body is paralysed so a person doesn’t hurt themselves while sleeping. It is really scary when it happens but i just keep trying to wake up and i do.

However i never experienced not being able to breathe so it’s probably something u need to check up although i don’t think u can suffocate since body controls breathing without our control.

i am not a doctor


Welcome to SDMB, ajm. One of our conventions here is that we need to be able to back up factual statements we make, particularly in the GD forum. All part of that “fighting ignorance” theme, you know. So in that spirit, can you provide a cite supporting your claim above? If I’m paralyzed when I sleep, how do my blankets get all trashed?

Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, if this is a defense mechanism against self-injury, where does the concept of “falling out of bed” come from?

Sleep apnea, I think kicks in when REM sleep is just starting, right? Meanwhile, this paralysis you describe, I think it’s just a result of waking up, but you haven’t snapped out of REM sleep yet. During REM sleep, most major body parts are paralyzed, ie arms, feet, and I can’t find a cite on this, but one often scary result is a feeling that someone is sitting on your chest. Makes (in some people’s eyes) for certain out-of-body/dead relative/fhost visiting type of experiences. I’ve never had it personally happen to me, though. Not that I can remember, anyway.

Wisest Novel:

When asleep, the body isn’t paralyzed per se - but you lose most voluntary muscle control (ataxia is the term, I believe). It is indeed a protective measure against such things as sleepwalking and lashing out in dreams. This ataxia isn’t perfect, and in some stages of sleep (if I remember my neuroscience course correctly - I’ll check my text when I get home) it’s not present at all and you’re welcome to thrash around a little bit, roll over, and in general make a mess of the bed. During the stages where you’re dreaming, though, this system works to keep you fairly still.

I believe the neurological structures involved in the process of ataxia during sleep are the raphe nucleus and reticular activating system (I really hope I’m remembering properly). Some folks have a system that doesn’t work so well. You may have seen shows about people who sleepwalk, sleeprun, or act out their dreams. In some cases, it leads to very bizarre behaviour.

In the case of the OP, it sounds like it may be something different, since sleep ataxia doesn’t cause paralysis of the lungs. Unfortunately, I have very little to add to the OP. Fortunately, s/he’s already received some fairly good posts. :slight_smile:

i dunno what exactly causes the ‘breathing paralysis’, but i don’t think the diaphragm is actually paralyzed, nor does breathing cease.

what i mean is, it certainly feels like it (that breathing has stopped), but i’ve had some eeeextended bouts without passing out (p.s.- has anyone ever passed out in a dream? what happened? how do you pass out of unconsciousness? dizamn!) or going fuzzy.

i think breathing is labored, if i can remember these terrors correctly. takes an almost impossible effort. but one still breathes.


i have had this problem on and off most of my life. it comes from exhaustion.

slow down, eat better and get more sleep, the problem will go away.

i also have sleep apnea and there is no connection.

Tank you for the welcome Wisest Novel.
Sure i can provide facts

REM sleep : A frightening form of paralysis that occurs when a person suddenly finds himself or herself unable to move for a few minutes, most often upon falling asleep or waking up. Commonly called sleep paralysis, the condition is due to an ill-timed disconnection between the brain and the body.

The symptoms of sleep paralysis include sensations of noises, smells, levitation, paralysis, terror, and images of frightening intruders. Once considered very rare, about half of all people are now believed to experience sleep paralysis sometime during their life.

Sleep paralysis strikes as a person is moving into or out of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest part of sleep. During REM sleep the body is largely disconnected from the brain leaving the body paralyzed. Sleep paralysis is the result of premature (or persistent) mind-body disconnection as one is about to enter into (or exit from) REM sleep.

Sleep paralysis occurs most often after jet lag or periods of sleeplessness that interrupt the normal REM patterns. It affects both sexes equally and occurs at all ages but is most common in teenagers. Sleep paralysis can be familial and may be genetic (inherited) in some cases.

An attack of sleep paralysis is usually harmless and self-limited. It tends to be over in a minute or two as soon as the brain and body re-establish connections and the person is able to move again. However, the memory of the terrifying sensations felt during sleep paralysis can long endure. (Some scholars believe that sleep paralysis may account for some of the old claims of attacks by witches and the more recent “reports” of nocturnal abduction by space aliens.)

A rare fatal form of sleep paralysis may, it is thought, underlie the cases of healthy teenagers, mainly in Southeast Asia, who die in their sleep, sometimes after fighting for breath but without thrashing around.

Sleep paralysis goes by a number of names, including the “old hag” in Newfoundland (for an old witch thought to sit on the chest of the paralyzed sleeper), “kokma” in the West Indies (for a ghost baby who jumps on the sleeper’s chest and attacks the throat), “kanashibari” in Japan and “gui ya” or ghost pressure in China (because a ghost is believed to sit on and assault the sleeper). Medically, sleep paralysis is sometimes called waking paralysis, predormital (before-sleep) paralysis, and postdormital (after-sleep) paralysis.

What causes sleep paralysis?
A. Conventional wisdom: REM atonia is a normal function of the body. The muscles that move the body are “turned off” during REM sleep, which prevents you from acting out dreamed actions in reality. Non-REM sleep paralysis after waking up (“old hag”) is caused by a failure to re-activate the muscles immediately. Normally this condition lasts only a few seconds, but sometimes it can go for a minute, which causes a very scary feeling. You are damn sure you’re awake now but you can’t move. This is extremely unpleasant but at least not dangerous.

Sleep Paralysis

The basic mechanism for REM sleep paralysis is found in the brainstem, the part of the brain that connects the spinal chord to the cerebral hemispheres and that consists of the pons, midbrain, and the medulla oblongata. Though physicians do not thoroughly understand the complex processes, it is known that the brainstem undergoes changes in REM sleep that result in paralysis of the body’s voluntary muscles. Certain neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine (Ach), become dormant and do not communicate motor activity. The absence of muscular contraction during REM can be seen with polysomnography. The electroencephalogram (EEG) shows elevated brain activity during REM.

Physicians and sleep technicians hypothesize that the brain naturally and purposely prevents motor activity during REM sleep to ensure restful, inactive sleep during the most electrically active stage of sleep. In this context, sleep paralysis describes a normal state of sleep, unlike sleep paralysis experienced in narcolepsy, which affects people while they are trying to stay awake.

from http://www.sleepdisorderchannel.net/
you can also go to

and read imformation that supports my claim.
or search on google for information on sleep paralysis.

Deadly Nightlight probably suffers from Sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea afflicts more than 12 million people in the United States. It takes its name from the Greek word apnea, which means “without breath.” People with sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, often for a minute or longer, and as many as hundreds of times during a single night. Sleep apnea can be caused by complete obstruction of the airway (obstructive apnea) or partial obstruction (obstructive hypopnea; hypopnea is slow, shallow breathing), both of which can disrupt sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea — obstructive, central, and mixed. Of these, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. OSA occurs in approximately 2% of women and 4% of men over the age of 35.

i’m not a doctor


ahhhhh ajm. you are not a doctor but yet a wise man who seeks knowledge.

i read all you had to say and it is helpful but there was no “cure.” as i stated earlier, what worked for me, was slowing down. being aware of when i was strung out and taking necessary steps.

when i had the most bouts with this problem i had a high level managerial job with a large “in trouble” organization. their problems became mine and i was always exhausted, mainly from stress.