According to WebMD, “sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious, but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep.”
People can experience a number of strange phenomena during their lifetime, but sleep paralysis is one of the strangest. This feeling of being unable to move while being conscious and aware of your surroundings is rather frightening.
IF YOU’VE EVER WOKEN UP AT NIGHT UNABLE TO MOVE, HERE’S WHAT IT MEANS…
Sleep paralysis often triggers a feeling of terror as the person going through the phenomenon doesn’t have control over their body. In fact, the most frightening thing is the fact that you remain conscious of everything around you but can’t move any part of your body.
Luckily, this common, yet strange phenomenon is actually harmless. It takes place during one of these two stages – hypnagogic (before falling asleep) and hypnopompic (during REM sleep).
The thing is, while we are falling asleep, the body enters a deep state of relaxation, while the mind becomes less conscious of its surroundings. In hypnagogic sleep paralysis, the mind remains conscious while the body enters an involuntary state of relaxation. It’s then that a person realizes their inability to move in spite of their efforts, which often triggers feelings of panic.
On the other hand, our muscles are paralyzed during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep so that we don’t act out our dreams. In case of hypnopompic sleep paralysis, some part of the brain wakes sooner than the part of the brain accountable for REM paralysis. This results in partial wakefulness without voluntary control over muscles.
WHO DOES THIS HAPPEN TO?
While some people only experience sleep paralysis once or twice in their lifetime, others go through this phenomenon quite often, sometimes as often as a few times a week. According to a study conducted by Penn State University, nearly 8% of the population experiences recurrent sleep paralysis. The study also found that people with mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are more inclined to recurrent episodes of sleep paralysis.
Other risk groups include people suffering from sleep apnea, people on certain medications, as well as those with an underlying sleep condition.
As stated by WebMD, the most common risk factors include:
– Sleep deficiency
– Frequent changes in sleep schedule
– Mental conditions, such as stress or bipolar disorder
– Sleeping on the back
– Sleep issues including narcolepsy or leg cramps during sleep
– Certain types of medication, such as those with ADHD
– Substance abuse
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
As we already mentioned, sleep paralysis normally occurs in the initial stages of falling asleep, as well as after the REM stage. In almost all cases, the symptoms are the same – inability to move or speak for a period of a few seconds to a few minutes.
Sleep paralysis is not harmful per sei, but it may be a symptom of an underlying cause that requires treatment. You can even get a referral to a sleep specialist if this condition continues or worsens.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS?
Sleep paralysis is a normal sleep phenomenon. However, the fact that it can be triggered by other underlying conditions, sometimes requires a suitable treatment. The most common treatments include:
– Designing a specific sleeping schedule
– Starting an anti-depressant therapy
– Referral to a mental health professional
– Referral to a sleep specialist
– Treatment of any underlying sleep disorder
– Sleeping pills
Sometimes even the slightest lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep and reducing the amount of stress can prevent the occurrence of sleep paralysis.
Even health experts recommend that those with occasional episodes of sleep paralysis should first consider changing their sleeping habits, as sleep deprivation significantly increases the risk of this phenomenon.
Cutting down or cutting out alcohol/drugs, nicotine and caffeine is also highly recommended. Electronic devices should also be kept outside the bedroom in order to improve sleep quality.
If an episode of sleep paralysis still occurs, remember to stay calm as it will pass on their own.