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Sleep Atonia and Sleep Paralysis: Understanding the Difference

To sleep, perchance to dream... Sleep is an absolutely vital part of our daily lives. It helps us to recharge and refresh our bodies and minds.

But sometimes it goes a little wrong...

There are various different stages of sleep, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when we dream. It is during REM sleep that we experience a natural phenomenon called sleep atonia.

Sleep atonia is mother nature's safety system, helping to keep us safe from physically acting out our dreams.

Unfortunately, sleep atonia is often confused with its darker sibling, the sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis.

In today's article you'll learn the important difference between sleep atonia and sleep paralysis.


Sleep Atonia

Sleep atonia is a temporary muscle paralysis that occurs during REM (dreaming) sleep, preventing bodily movement and ensuring that a person does not act out their dreams.

Almost all muscles are paralysed during sleep atonia with the exception of the eyes, diaphragm (used for breathing), and some muscles involved in regulating heart rate and blood pressure..

Sleep atonia occurs exclusively while we dream, and therefore goes completely unnoticed several times every night.

Sleep atonia is a completely normal part of sleep and happens every single night without us noticing.


Sleep Paralysis

On the other hand, sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that can cause temporary muscle paralysis during wakefulness, and a feeling of being awake but unable to move.

This can be a terrifying experience and can cause feelings of panic and terror.

Sleep paralysis typically occurs when waking up or falling asleep and is characterized by the temporary inability to move or speak.

Sleep paralysis is a mistiming of sleep atonia; the mind is awake but the body is immobilized.

It is rare, not to be expected, and can frankly be rather terrifying.

Common causes of sleep paralysis are:

  • insomnia

  • sleep apnoea

  • disrupted sleeping patterns (shift work or jet lag)

  • narcolepsy

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • panic disorder

  • general anxiety disorder

  • a family history of sleep paralysis

  • certain medications (such as those used to treat ADHD)

It's VERY important to note that sleep paralysis is a rare state and is absolutely not a normal part of sleep.

Generally, sleep paralysis indicates an underlying issue with your sleep cycle.

a basic rule of thumb:

⚠️ Sleep paralysis: is RARE, not to be expected, and something you will NOTICE ⚠️ Sleep atonia: occurs during every dream, is NATURAL, and goes UNNOTICED multiple times every night.


Sleep Paralysis Misinformation is a Useful Red Flag

The misrepresentation of sleep paralysis is a very useful red-flag that can help you to identify bad sources for lucid dream education.

Understanding the difference between sleep paralysis and sleep atonia is among the most basic entry-level understanding of sleep science and psychology.

Indeed, any first year psychology student should be able to describe the difference.

Unfortunately many lucid dreaming teachers and websites share the misleading and incorrect idea that sleep paralysis is required for lucid dream induction (it absolutely isn't!), or confuse sleep paralysis with sleep atonia.

If you encounter a lucid dreaming website, teacher, or source that incorrectly represents sleep paralysis (such as mixing it up with sleep atonia), you can be certain that they have not paid due diligence to their research, and almost certainly cannot be relied upon for accurate information regarding lucid dreaming or sleep.



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