Sleep paralysis, closely related to “night terrors,” is a scary and surprisingly common condition. People who suffer from these conditions find themselves in a state somewhere between sleep and waking life. As a result, their brain works, but their body refuses to move. To make matters worse, most sufferers of sleep paralysis report sensing a threatening presence in the room. In some cases, they may even see a dark figure or feel someone crawling on top of them.
The inability to move only lasts for a few minutes, but it is nonetheless terrifying. Needless to say, this condition makes for great horror movie material. In fact, dozens of horror movies and TV shows use characters suffering from sleep paralysis, and most of them will make viewers want to sleep with the lights on.
UPDATE: 2022/10/22 22:40 EST BY SHAWN S. LEALOS
With Halloween right around the corner, it is always a good time to look for scary horror movies. Nothing is scarier to many people than sleep paralysis movies, and there are some good options out there to terrify audiences. 2022 saw another release in the genre with the movie Conjuring the Beyond, which hit in September 2022. The movie is about a sleep study that goes wrong and ends up with traumatic results. While the movie didn’t receive the best of reviews, there are others from the past that should give anyone night terrors if sleep paralysis is something that frightens them.
14/14 The Haunting of Mia Moss (2018) – 3.7
Stream now on Prime Video
The Haunting of Mia Moss is about a young woman haunted by strange nightmares. She goes to her mother to find out more about these nightmares, only to find out that her mother suffered from similar nightmares as a result of her sleep paralysis. They both worry that Mia’s visions could be deadly.
Soon, Mia’s nightmares start mixing with her waking life. Even when she is awake, she is followed and tormented by a hideous old woman. As the visions worsen, Mia starts to lose her grip on reality.
13/14 Desecration (1999) – 4.0
Stream now on Vudu
Desecration tells the story of a teenage boy who mourns the death of his mother. The teen is deeply troubled by the event, but things don’t get any better from there. When he accidentally kills a nun at his Catholic school, it sets off a chain of supernatural events.
The boy is then plagued by nightmarish visions of evil nuns and demons. Soon, he finds himself cast into a hellish world of the unknown. Fighting to survive, he must face his own demons while also trying to destroy this supernatural evil.
12/14 Between the Darkness (2019) – 4.1
Stream now on Vudu & Darkmatter TV
In Between the Darkness, a 13-year-old girl named Sprout lives on a remote sanctuary with her father and younger brother. The family practices a strange folk religion and moved to the sanctuary to “worship in silence.” However, Sprout is haunted by visions of a strange and terrifying monster.
Soon, Sprout becomes convinced that the monster is living in the nearby woods. Determined to learn more, she explores the woods. In her effort to find and defeat the monster, Sprout learns dark and troubling secrets about her family.
11/14 Sleep-Paralysis (2004) – 4.5
Not available to stream at this time
In this 2004 Australian chiller, a writer of children’s books decides to move to a country estate by a lake. At first, she and her husband are happy in their new home. However, things quickly take a turn for the worse.
When our heroine starts suffering from sleep paralysis, she contacts medical professionals and even a priest to get help. Despite her best efforts, nothing seems to work. She soon finds herself fighting to survive against the terrifying entity that haunts her at nights.
10/14 Dead Awake (2016) – 4.6
Stream now on Peacock+
Dead Awake tells the story of Kate, a social worker investigating a series of strange deaths following the sudden death of her sister, Beth. Every victim suffered from the same condition: sleep paralysis. A doctor warns Kate that an evil entity haunted these people, but she dismisses it as mere superstition.
Eventually, Kate comes to believe in the monster and attempts to summon it. However, she almost gets killed in the process. As her investigation brings her closer to the monster, Kate realizes that it is far more powerful than she ever imagined.
9/14 Marianne (2011) – 4.7
Stream now on Vudu & Tubi
This Swedish horror film focuses on Krister, a man who is coping with the recent death of his wife. Her death left Krister with a newborn baby and a resentful teenage daughter. To make matters worse, his nights are plagued by strange and terrifying nightmares.
Eventually, Krister comes to believe that his nights are haunted by a Mare, an evil entity of Slavic folklore. According to legends, the Mare would ride on people’s chests as they slept, bringing on terrible nightmares. Most experts agree that this myth was used to explain early cases of sleep paralysis.
8/14 Slumber (2017) – 4.7
Stream now on Prime Video
In Slumber, a by-the-books sleep doctor, Alice, helps people overcome their nightmares and sleep problems every day. However, when a family comes to her to treat their young son, Daniel, she is forced to abandon her traditional treatment methods. Daniel’s parents reveal that the boy suffers from night terrors and that an evil entity has begun haunting the rest of the family as well.
Alice brings the family in to observe them while they sleep. Unfortunately, her observations only raise more questions. With time, the entity grows in strength, forcing Alice to face her own inner demons as she fights to keep the family alive.
7/14 Mara (2018) – 5.1
Stream now on Roku & Tubi
Mara is a 2018 supernatural horror film about the investigation into a bizarre death. Kate, a criminal psychologist, investigates the death of a man who was apparently strangled in his sleep. When the man’s wife insists that he was killed by a sleep demon, Kate endeavors to have the woman committed to a mental institution.
However, when Kate starts suffering from sleep paralysis herself, she realizes that it is not an open-and-shut case. As the body count rises, Kate is forced to confront the possibility that the sleep demon actually exists. She eventually meets a doctor who teaches her about the centuries-old sleep demon known as “Mara.”
6/14 Shadow People (2013) – 5.3
Stream now on Roku
A series of YouTube videos recounting strange and bizarre apparitions convinces a radio talk show host, Charlie, that “shadow people” are haunting victims in their sleep. He finds the accounts so convincing that he decides to investigate the matter himself. Soon, he comes to realize that these “shadow people” might be responsible for several deaths in his town.
Meanwhile, an investigator for the CDC, Sophie, is desperate to find a more rational explanation. Nonetheless, she agrees to team up with Charlie to find some answers. Soon, they both discover that the shadow people are very real and very dangerous.
5/14 The Nightmare (2015) – 5.7
Stream now on AMC+ & Shudder
The Nightmare is the only documentary on this list, but horror movies based on true stories are usually the most terrifying. In the film, viewers get a glimpse into real-life accounts of sleep paralysis. Though each case is unique, they all experience a variation of the same thing.
Each night, the victims awaken to find that they cannot move. They sense a presence and often see a dark figure standing in the room with them. Sometimes, the victim even feels a weight on their chest, making it difficult to breathe.
4/14 The Night House (2020) – 6.5
Stream now on HBO Max
The Night House arrived in 2020 and starred Rebecca Hall as a woman who begins to suffer after the death of her husband. Eventually, she starts to lose her grip on reality. She can’t tell the difference between her dreams and real life, and that causes her to wonder if there are paranormal spirits in the movie.
The biggest question is whether there are ghosts haunting her or if she has sleep paralysis, where her mind is awake, but her body is asleep. The movie works because Hall’s Beth is a smart woman and begins to investigate the symptoms and search for her own answers.
3/14 The Babadook (2014) – 6.8
Stream now on AMC+ & Shudder
The Babadook was a huge success when it came out in 2014, an indie horror movie that picked up a massive fanbase. The movie features a single mother who struggles to raise her child. When a mysterious monster from a storybook begins haunting them, she realizes she has to fight or lose everything.
The movie had a lot going on under the hood, as the entire monster was a metaphor and the realization of what it represented was more horrifying than any boogeyman. One of the symptoms of sleep paralysis are shadowy figures that people see while in this state. While this isn’t necessarily a sleep paralysis movie, the Babadook is a nice parallel to the affliction.
2/14 Insidious (2010) – 6.8
Stream now on Peacock+
In Insidious, a family learns their home is haunted. When an exorcism doesn’t work, they decide to up and leave, something people in movies should do more often. However, it is at this time that they realize their home wasn’t haunted – their son was.
Their son slips into a sort of coma, and they have to find a way to save him. His own father goes under hypnosis and goes into a dream world to save his son. The father has a form of sleep paralysis at this time. He knows he is sleeping in the chair, but when he sees the demons that scared him as a child, he has nothing to do but run.
1/14 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – 7.4
Stream now on HBO Max.
The origins of A Nightmare on Elm Street came from two things. On the commentary track of the DVD, Wes Craven explains that he had memories of a strange man outside his window when he was a child. He then grew up and read a newspaper article about kids who fell asleep and never woke up. He combined the two and Freddy Krueger was born.
Throughout the series, the kids Freddy hunted knew that they were asleep. They knew that Freddy was a demon that killed them in their dreams, but nothing they could do allowed them to wake up and escape the harsh reality that he could kill them in their dreams. It wasn’t until the kids learned they could fight back in their sleep that they finally found a way to beat him.
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