when a person passes between stages of sleep and wakefulness, it actually experiences sleep paralysis. It is a feeling of being conscious, but still not able to move. Sleep paralysis is extremely frightening phenomenon because you wake up, you are completely aware of everything around you, but you are not able to move any part of your body. Your body is completely paralized, which is why you become really terrified and disturbed. It occurs during one of two stages -“hypnagogic” and “hypnopompic”.
The first one occurs right before falling asleep, while the second one happens as soon as the person wakes up from rapid eye movement, REM, sleep. You all know that when we sleep, our body is relaxed and our mind is less aware of the things around us. Nevertheless, when it comes to hypnagogic sleep paralysis, the mind remains aware while the body is in an unconscious relaxation state. As a result, when the individuals realize they can’t move, they start panicking which is very dangerous.
When it comes to REM sleep, our muscles are paralyzed, but specific part of our brain wakes as soon as we experience hypnopompic sleep paralysis. However, it doesn’t have to mean that the part of the brain which controls the REM paralysis will also wake. Therefore, the individual is in an awaken state, but not able to control his muscles voluntarily. Some people have never experienced this phenomenon, some have once or twice, but there are people who experience it often, even several times per week.
According to a study conducted at the Penn State University, around 8% of the population frequently experience sleep paralysis. People that suffer from anxiety, depression, with underlying sleep condition, those taking specific medications, and those struggling with sleep apnea are more disposed to frequent episodes of these problems.
WebMD revealed a list of the risk factors:
- Frequent changes in sleep schedule
- Substance abuse
- Lack of sleep
- Sleep problems like nighttime leg cramps or narcolepsy
- Mental conditions, like bipolar disorder or stress
- Certain medications, like the ones with ADHD
- Sleeping on the back
Another important thing you should know is that people who experience sleep paralysis can’t move or speak for several seconds or minutes. Usually, this problem is not medically treated, however, sometimes your doctor might inquire other aspects of the sleep health. Moreover, if the sleep issues worsen, he might also consult a specialist.
Since this paralysis happens naturally, there is not a prescribed treatment. Nevertheless, as we previously mentioned, the specialist can discover another underlying condition, so in cases like this, he may prescribe a treatment like:
- Treatment of any underlying sleep disorders
- Implementation of a sleeping schedule
- Referral to a mental health professional
- Referral to a sleep specialist
- Prescription for sleeping aids
- Prescription for an anti-depressant
In order to prevent sleep paralysis episodes, you should definitely try to reduce the stress before bedtime and make a healthy sleep your number one priority. You don’t have to seek medical help if this happens only once. According to specialists, you need to pay more attention to your sleeping habits and sleep for 8 hours in order to prevent sleep paralysis to repeat, because lack of sleep usually contributes to the occurance of this problem.
Moreover, you should eliminate or at least try to avoid the intake of alcohol, drugs, nicotine and caffeine. You should also keep your electronic devices away from you while you are sleeping. You should be well aware of the fact that if you have already experienced sleep paralysis, the chances are high that you will experience it again, but bear in mind that it’s nothing terrifying and it will pass very quickly, so try not to panic.