Sleep paralysis is an intermediate state between sleep and awakeness in which a person experiences temporary paralysis. Would this state be considered sleep, awakeness, or its own unique category for the purpose of halacha?

One example of a halachic outcome of this question: One who sleeps more than the period of shitin nishmei must wash their hands upon awaking (Mishnah Berurah 4:34); it could be relevant whether a period of sleep paralysis is counted towards the shitin nishmei.

  • 4
    Downvoter, care to explain?
    – user3318
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 6:51
  • BTW IIRC Aruch Hshulchan is of the opinion that one need not wash after sleeping during the day.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


Pesahim 120b uses the phrase נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר‏, 'dozing but not dozing, awake but not awake' to describe a minimum amount of halachic consciousness required to be considered not sleeping. The Talmud explains that in this state, a person responds, but cannot assert something independently. However, if reminded of something specifically, they can confirm or deny it.

The Rashbam explains that if asked where he put something, the dozer can't tell, but if he was asked if he put it in a specific place, he can say yes or no.

The Talmud gives an example through an anecdote. Abaye saw Rabah dozing while eating the final portion of matza. In order to make sure he was not a sleep, Abaye asked Rabah if he was just dozing, and Rabah confirmed that he was.

I found that this halacha applies at least to the following laws, which I am outlining based only on my rudimentary understanding of the Talmud:

  • If a person falls asleep while eating the Pascal Offering they may not continue to eat it when they awake, (ibid).
  • A person can not acquire a woman by way of Yibbum, or Levirate marriage, whilst asleep, (Yevamos 54a)
  • A person may not eat in the hours before a fast day begins should they fall asleep, (Taanis 12a)
  • A person fulfils their obligation if they doze whilst reading the Megillah, (Megillah 18b)
  • A person has 'tasteless spittle', (one of seven substances that are applied to a stain to determine if it is blood or dye), if they sleep, or doze, at night, (Niddah 63a)

In any event, in order to not be considered 'asleep' in the above cases, a person must at least be able to speak a rudimentary response. The article you have cited says that a person experiencing sleep paralysis cannot speak.

It would seem that since they cannot speak, a person experiencing sleep paralysis could not respond to any sort of question, and would thus be considered asleep, according to halacha.1

1. As to the specific case you mentioned in your question, it is worth noting that even dozing is sleep-like enough for the case in niddah, resulting in 'tastless spittle'. Thus further investigation would be required to determine if dozing would count for shittin nishmei, though it seems that sleep paralysis would.

  • Nice overview of נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר, but just because sleep paralysis is different from נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר does not mean that it's considered sleep. Seemingly, the standard for differentiating sleep from נים ולא נים תיר ולא תיר is that a certain degree of awareness is present in the latter. If so, sleep paralysis (or general paralysis for that matter) might also be considered wakefulness.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 22:30
  • So you are classifying any type of total paralysis as sleep. If you're making that claim, you should either cite a direct source for it or cite a source that definitively supports the underlying principle that halachic sleep is characterized by lack of control over one's physical faculties. You're inferring this from the standard of דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר, but it seems that, if anything, the gemara is measuring wakefulness by awareness rather than by control over one's physical faculties. In this case, speech is seemingly only used as an indicator of awareness.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 1:25
  • @Fred are all types of paralysis apart of sleep like sleep paralysis is? If Abaye asked Rava if he was dozing, and Rava was experiencing sleep paralysis and could not answer, could Rava continue to eat the Afikoman? Also notice the gemara's language: דקרו ליה ועני ולא ידע לאהדורי סברא וכי מדכרו ליה מדכר. He answers, but cannot give details. The gemara could have just said he cannot give details, suggesting awareness. Why does it say specifically that he answers?
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 5:26
  • @Fred The gemara is saying that he can answer, so he isn't asleep, but he can't answer like an awake person can answer, which is why this state of dozing is sometimes termed as 'sleep', even tough it halachically is not sleep.
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 5:29
  • Seems to me that the wording of the gemara is necessary to fully describe a common scenario and is not subject to a diyuk of the type you are making. I understand how you could interpret the gemara both ways, but I think your answer would benefit if you found and included a source that agrees with your interpretation.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 6:03

As one who experiences sleep paralysis, I can assure you that it is definitely considered to be sleep. The person has no conscious interaction with the outside world during an episode of sleep paralysis (though it is often accompanied by exceedingly lifelike dreams).

  • I have experienced this more times than I can count and I often am frightened and I try to say Modeh Ani to wake up. I feel pretty conscious of what I am doing, I was even surprised that symptoms of sleep paralysis preclude speech because I really thought i said words.
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 4:21

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