Home Anxiety Why Can’t I Wake up During a Dream?

Why Can’t I Wake up During a Dream?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From a teen in the UK: A few days ago, I had a dream which was a typical thing, nothing extraordinary, no nightmares or scares. After the dream, however, I realised that it had finished but I wasn’t waking up. I tried to wake up and failed which (whilst still sleeping) concerned me as I was physically unable to open my eyelids. I knew that it was time to wake up and was trying to open my eyelids but it felt like something was blocking them from opening. I was unable to move my body and only after several times did I open my eyes.

It was quite a frightening experience and I’m concerned that it’s going to happen again which is giving me kind of a sleep anxiety. I certainly don’t want to go through it again, even though it only felt like few seconds. The same thing also happened to me a few months ago but I dismissed it thinking it was all a dream but now I know that I was fully conscious after having the dream but before waking up. What is happening?

Thank you for writing. I think you’ll be relieved to know that there is an explanation for your experience. You had an episode of something called “sleep paralysis”.  In sleep paralysis, the person believes themself to be awake but can’t move. Some people try to call for help but find they can’t. Some people see and hear things that aren’t there. It can be very frightening if you don’t know what it is.

In some cultures and in other times, this experience has been attributed to evil spirits or possession. It’s not. It’s a result of not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. For reasons not yet understood, the sufferer gets “stuck” for seconds or minutes during the transition from wakefulness to sleep or from sleep to wakefulness. It won’t harm you. It will naturally pass.

I hope that knowing what it is relieves your fears about it.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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