The Chemistry of Sleep Paralysis


Sleep paralysis is when you are conscience,but you are unable to move- as if you were paralyzed. This happens when the person passes between sleep stages. The person will pass from wakefulness to falling in deep sleep. During the transition there is a problem where the person will wake up, but is unable to move or talk, even though they are awake. Some people swear to feel that they can not breath or that they are being forced down by some sort of entity, but there is research that can explain this phenomenon scientifically. Sleep paralysis is in the category of sleep disorders such as Narcolepsy. I chose this topic, because I wanted to gain more understanding about the science behind it. Sleep paralysis is something that has happened to me multiple times before, and is a very scary experience that almost does not seem real. Knowing more about what is happening in my body during sleep paralysis, I figured would be helpful to me.Composition of ...

Composition of the Sleep :

Melatonin = C13H16N2O2

Adenosine = C10H13N5O4

Composition of the Paralysis:

Glycine: C2H5NO2


Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Adenosine = C10H13N5O4

Adenosine is the byproduct of energy consumption by the body. It accumulates in the body throughout the day and is what generates the feeling of tiredness. The feeling of tiredness is removed when we are well-rested. That is why we feel more tired after a particularly busy day or feel extra tired when we don’t enough sleep.


GABA stands for Gamma- Aminobutyric Acid which is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter involved in the central nervous system inhibitory activity. It is part of the neurotransmitter responsible for voluntary muscle movements.

Chemistry's Role

The the nerve receptors in the voluntary muscles play a role in this phenomenon. One is called the ionotropic GABAA which responds to both glycine and gamma aminobutyric acid and the other is metabotropic GABAB. The combination of the two at the same time is what causes the muscles to be unable to move.

Background Research

Sleep paralysis occurs at 2 different times. The 1st way is when you are falling asleep. That is called hypnagogic or predormital sleep. The 2nd way happens when you are waking up. This is called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep.

    • During sleep, the body alternates between REM (rapid-eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) cycles. One cycle last to 90 minutes. NREM takes up about 75% of your sleep time while REM takes up the other 25%. REM is when your body is relaxed but your brain is dreaming. NREM is where the body repairs itself for the next day. During REM you muscles are basically shut off. Sleep Paralysis occurs when the person wakes up and is aware of their surroundings, but the REM cycle isn’t finished so that person will not be able to move or speak until the REM cycle has finished.

What does it feel like?

The experience differs for everyone, but it is similar for everyone that it is frightening, unfortunately. Doctors say it is linked to depression, and GAD (general anxiety disorder.) There has not been and exact cure found, but regular sleep schedule, healthy diet, regular exercise, and staying sober helps the episodes occur less often. Antipsychotics have been said to help some, but many are skeptical about taking such medicine for something that is more sleep related. There are stories of sleep paralysis occurring that have been around for centuries. Back then, many people believed that it had something to do with ‘evil’ and many people still believ that, but there is clearly more research now to prove that there is a scientific explanation for what happens.


    • Phenomenon, what it is
    • The allegedly supernatural reasoning, history, and basic science behind the occurrence

    • Everything about the science behind the sleeping problem : What is it? How does it happen? When does it happen? What is it like? Who develops it? Why does it happen? How is it diagnosed? How is it treated?

    • Folklore and Myth about Sleep Paralysis
    • Sleep Paralysis and Psychopathy
    • Folk Remedies

    • Brain Chemicals that are involved in Paralysis
    • Clonazepam, antipsychotic is used
    • Chemistry of Sleep

    • Ways to wake up from Sleep Paralysis
    • Sleep Paralysis and Spirits

    • Prevalence
    • Personal Experiences

    • Background knowledge about Melatonin and Adenosine (two main chemicals involved in sleep)

    • Chemical Compound of Melatonin

    • Chemical compound of Adenosine

About the Author

Grace Sheldon is a 4.0 sophomore student at Senior High. She enjoys anything involving helping others, art, music, animals, and being outdoors. Grace plans on going to the University of Montana for art, music and special education. Grace does not think that some things in Chemistry are very fun or easy, but enjoys learning about how the world works and why.