Sleep Paralysis: Everything you Need to Know
Sleep paralysis is one of the sleep disorders. It is a temporary disability of not being able to move, either at the onset of sleep or when you wake up.
It occurs when you are falling asleep, shortly after you have fallen asleep, or while you wake up.
Keep on reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and more.
Causes and Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis
Accroding to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, people with sleep paralysis experience this condition for the first time between the age of 14 and 17 years.
Moreover, it is a common condition and about 5 to 40% of people experience this condition.
Episodes of sleep paralysis can occur with other sleep conditions, usually Narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a condition in which an individual experiences overwhelming drowsiness and sudden sleep attacks throughout the day.
However, it is not necessary that individuals experience narcolepsy along with sleep paralysis.
This condition is rarely dangerous and does not require any medical treatment.
Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia or an undesired event and usually happens after you fall asleep, or the time between waking and sleep.
You may experience episodes along with visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations. They are also called Hypnagogic experiences.
These usually occur during the transition between sleeping and waking is alls into 3 categories:
- Intruder: These are sounds of doorknobs opening, shuffling footsteps, a shadow man, or senses of a presence that is threatening
- Incubus: This involves feelings of pressure on the chest, difficulty in breathing which is a sense of being smothered, strangled, or assaulted. Moreover, the person believes that they are about to die
- Vestibular-motor: It is a sense of spinning, falling, floating, flying, or hovering on the body or another type of out-of-body experience.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
When you fall asleep, your body relaxes and the voluntary muscles do not move.
This prevents you from causing any harm to yourself due to acting out in dreams.
However, sleep paralysis is a disruption or fragmentation of the rapid eye movement or REM cycle.
During sleep, your body alters between rapid eye movement REM and non-rapid eye movement NREM.
One REM-NREM cycle lasts for about 90 minutes and you spend most of the time in NREM.
During NREM, your body relaxes while during REM your eyes move quickly, but your body is relaxed. The dream occurs during this time of the sleep cycle.
While you experience sleep paralysis, your body’s transition to or from REM sleep is out of sync with the brain, your consciousness is awake, while your body remains paralyzed.
The areas of your brain during this that help detect threats are in a heightened state and overly sensitive.
Moreover, certain factors that are linked to sleep paralysis are:
- irregular sleep patterns
- sleeping on your back
- if you have a family history of sleep paralysis
Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is not a medical emergency, however, getting familiar with the symptoms can provide you peace of mind.
One of the most common characteristics of sleep paralysis is your inability to move or speak.
Moreover, an episode can last for a few seconds to almost 2 minutes.
Along with the inability to move or speak you may also experience a feeling that something is pushing you down, or feeling fear.
You may also experience a feeling of something or someone in the room or hypnagogic hallucinations and hypnopompic experiences HHEs.
Many doctors describe HHEs as hallucinations during, right before, or after sleep.
Many doctors attribute the following as signs and symptoms of sleep paralysis:
- difficulty breathing
- a feeling that you are going to die
It is important to note that episodes end on their own or when someone touches or moves you.
You may also be aware of what is happening, however, you are still unable to move or speak. In most cases, you will also remember the details of the episode after temporary paralysis disappears.
It also causes sleep deprivation in extreme cases.
However, in rare cases, you might also experience dream-like hallucinations that can lead to fear or anxiety, however, these hallucinations are harmless.
Treatment and Prevention
Medically, there is no diagnosis of sleep paralysis, however, if the symptoms are of concern, it is advisable to visit your doctor. Your doctor will ask you about your sleeping patterns and medical history.
Moreover, your doctor will ask you to keep a sleep diary, documenting your experiences during sleep. In some cases, your doctor may also suggest that you participate in an overnight sleep study to track your brain waves and breathing.
However, it is only recommended if you are losing sleep due to sleep paralysis.
It is also important to note that you may need medical attention if:
- it happens regularly
- you feel anxious about going to sleep or find it too difficult to fall asleep
- you fall asleep suddenly or feel sleepy during the day
Suddenly falling asleep during the day can be a sign of narcolepsy, however, if stress or anxiety are causing the symptoms, you may need to address these.
Symptoms of sleep paralysis usually resolve within a few minutes and do not cause any physical effects of trauma.
However, the experience can be quite unsettling and frightening. Moreover, it occurs in isolation and does not require medical intervention.
In case, you have signs of narcolepsy, you should consult the doctor, This is important especially it interferes with your daily life.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage your sleep paralysis if the underlying cause is narcolepsy.
The most common medications are stimulants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs like fluoxetine. These stimulants help you stay awake.
SSRIs help to manage the symptoms of narcolepsy. Moreover, your doctor can also order a sleep study, Polysomnography.
The study results will help your doctor make a diagnosis and if you are experiencing sleep paralysis and other symptoms they can devise a treatment plan.
This type of study requires you to stay in the hospital for a night or a sleep center.
During this study, your health care provider will place electrodes on your chin, scalp, and the outer edges of your eyelids.
These electrodes help to measure the electrical activity in your muscles and brain waves.
They also monitor your breathing and heart rate and in certain cases, a camera will also record your movements during sleep.
Many doctors believe that the key to reducing the symptoms and recurrence of sleep paralysis is to improve sleep hygiene to maintaining a good bedtime routine which includes:
- avoiding blue light before going to bed
- ensuring that your room temperature us low
Thus, these can help ensure you get better sleep and rest at night.
Tips for Better Sleep
There is no specific treatment for sleep paralysis, however, managing the causes can help reduce the likelihood of them.
You can follow some tips to improve your sleep hygiene. These are as follows:
Keeping your bedtime and morning time consistent, ensuring a comfortable sleeping environment, reducing light exposure, and getting good daylight during the hours you are awake.
Moreover, avoid studying in your bedroom, naps around or after 3:oo pm, heating heavy meals at night, and sleeping with lights or TV on.
Daily exercise, avoiding alcohol or caffeine products, a claiming activity in the bedtime ritual, leaving your smartphone outside the bedroom, or putting them aside at least before 1 hour going to bed are some tips you can follow to improve your sleep.
However, reducing or managing depression or anxiety disorder, intake of stimulants, meditation, and avoiding sleeping on your back are some extra measures you can take.
Understanding the physiology of sleep paralysis and its mechanism can help overcome it.
In most cases, sleep disruption and stress can have serious health implications, thus, you should maintain good sleeping habits.
These are not only necessary for sleep paralysis, but for your overall health as well.
You can take the following steps to prevent sleep paralysis.
- reduce stress
- regular exercise
- regular sleep schedule
- keeping track of your medications
- understand and learn about the side effects of medications
Moreover, yoga, therapy, trauma counseling, and breathing exercises can help reclaim the sense of emergency over your body.
However, if you have mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, then taking antidepressants can help reduce the episodes of sleep paralysis.
Who Develops It?
As many as 4 out of 10 people suffer from sleep paralysis during their life.
Most often, it is common during the teen years, however, many men and women can have it.
Sleep paralysis runs in the family which means that if either or both of your parents or anyone of your siblings suffers from it, then you may also have it.
Other factors that are linked to sleep paralysis are lack of sleep, changes in your sleeping schedule, mental conditions, or sleeping on the back.
Moreover, narcolepsy, or nighttime leg cramps, the use of medications like ADHD, or substance abuse can also cause it.
Sleep paralysis is a common condition and often resolves on its own. It is usually harmless and does not require any medical intervention.
However, if the condition persists and is accompanied by the symptoms of narcolepsy, then you should consult your doctor.
Taking precautionary measures like sleeping at the exact time daily, avoiding screentime before going to bed, exercise, reducing stress, anxiety, or depression, keeping a track of your medications and yoga can help manage the signs and symptoms as well as the recurrence of sleep paralysis.