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What is Sleep Paralysis?

20th November 2017 By Sophie Knight

sleep-paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is described as the inability to speak or move during the periods in which you are partly asleep but partly awake. It can feel as though you are completely paralysed, hence the name ‘sleep paralysis’.

Sleep paralysis is in no way harmful and usually passes in a matter of seconds or minutes. However, it can feel longer and can be an unpleasant experience.

It is common for people to experience sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime, however some never do and some do more frequently. Others may actually experience sleep paralysis a few times a month or even weekly.

It has no bounds when it comes to age or sex, but is more common in teenagers and young adults.

Symptoms of sleep paralysis

The number one sign associated with sleep paralysis is being completely aware of all of your surroundings but not being able to move or talk, this is temporary however.

It is more common to experience symptoms as you are waking up, but they can also occur when you are waking up.

When experiencing a typical episode of sleep paralysis you may:

  • feel as though your chest is being crushed or severely restricted, making it hard to inhale or exhale.

  • be able to only move your eyes and see clearly what is around you, but not move any other part of your body.

  • have hallucinations – have an overwhelming feeling that there is someone or something else in the room with you, in many cases people report the presence as feeling as though it had intent to harm.

  • feel very intensely frightened

Causes of sleep paralysis

The reason that sleep paralysis takes place is due to rapid eye movements (REM) that occur during sleep, happening while you are awake.

To expand, REM is a stage of sleep where the brain is extremely active and is when dreams will occur. The body is not able to move, for if it was, you would be able to act out your dreams and potentially harm yourself. The eyes and breathing are the only movements that are not retrcited by REM.

It is not confirmed as to why REM can occur during the time when you are awake but it has been attributed to:

  • sleep deprivation and/or insomnia

  • having irregular sleeping patterns – this could be the fault of a lifestyle or due to travel

  • a family history of sleep paralysis

  • more common when you sleep on your back

  • narcolepsy – which is a rare and long-term condition which can cause someone to fall asleep at inappropriate times.

Treatment for sleep paralysis

It is usually the case that sleep paralysis will get better over time for regular sufferers. Treatment will not be necessary for those who only experience it on the one off. But for those who it effects regularly, treatment is often sought after.

The best thing you can do it improve your own sleeping habits and the environment in which you sleep in.

Things that can help you:

  • aim to get a good nights sleep as many nights a week as possible – most adults do need around six to eight hours of sleep to qualify for a good nights sleep.

  • Dedicate yourself to going to bed at roughly the same time each night, and also get up at the same time each morning.

  • Make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable, quite, dark uncluttered and a nice temperature – not too hot nor too cold.

  • Avoid eating large meals, drinking caffeine or alcohol or smoking before going to bed.

  • Exercise regularly – but not for around four hours before you go to bed, this time should be dedicated to relaxing your body.

If your case of sleep paralysis is particularly severe, your GP may recommend putting you on a course of antidepressant medication. This will aim to work by altering REM sleep.