Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, completely conscious but paralyzed? This weird phenomenon occurs either before falling deeply asleep or immediately after you wake up.
The person is fully aware of what is happening around them, but unable to move any part of the body. It can definitely be scary, but is there a place for real concern?
Should You be Worried if You Experience Sleep Paralysis?
Not having control over your own body is a frightening experience. And although no one would like to be in such a terrifying situation, sleep paralysis is actually not dangerous. In fact, it is a rather common phenomenon, which occurs between two stages of the full sleeping cycle.
Depending on when sleep paralysis happens, there are two types:
- Hypnopompic, which occurs when we wake from the REM sleep. During the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, our muscles are completely relaxed, i.e. paralyzed. This happens to that we don’t mimic the actions in our dreams. It is a defensive mechanism that prevents us from getting hurt while we sleep. When a part of the brain awakens sooner, and the other part which controls the muscles in REM stage for some reason stays asleep, hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs.
- Hypnagogic, which occurs just before we fall into deep sleep. As we are falling asleep, the awareness ‘fades away’ and the muscles gradually relax preparing for the stage of deep sleep. If, for some reason, the brain remains awake, while the muscles ‘fall asleep’ involuntarily, then you are experiencing hypnagogic paralysis.
Who Can Experience Sleep Paralysis?
Many people are lucky enough to never experience sleep paralysis. To others, it happens once or twice during the lifetime. However, some people struggle with this unpleasant phenomenon on a regular basis. In their case, sleeping paralysis happens several times in one week.
The Penn State University conducted an experiment which found that over 5% of the US population has this problem. The report states that frequent sleep paralysis episodes are common in people suffering from mental disorders, like depression or anxiety. Another high-risk category includes those that suffer from sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders, like insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns. Also, sleep paralysis is common in people that take certain prescribed drugs for longer periods of time.
The following list includes the factors that may lead to frequent sleep paralysis episodes:
- Not getting enough sleep
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Sleeping problems like narcolepsy or restless leg syndrome
- Mental disorders such as depression, stress, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
- Some types of prescribed drugs like those for ADHD
- Drug abuse
Is Sleep Paralysis an Indication of a More Serious health Problem?
Sleep paralysis can affect anyone whether during the initial stage of sleep or immediately after waking up. It lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes, a period when the person is unable to move or speak.
Usually, this phenomenon requires no therapy or treatment, but in case it starts occurring frequently, it is wise to see your doctor. The medical professional will see if there are other health issues behind it. In some cases, sleep paralysis indicates certain sleeping disorders, and you may be referred to a sleep specialist.
Is There a Treatment for Sleep Paralysis?
There is no prescribed treatment for sleeping paralysis. It occurs naturally, so you are recommended to stay calm until it passes. However, as we said, this occurrence may indicate other health issues. If such an issue is diagnosed, these are the possible therapies:
- A fixed sleeping schedule recommended by a sleep specialist
- Seeing a mental health therapist
- Sleeping medications
Very often, getting enough quality sleep, while at the same time reducing the levels of stress can be helpful with the sleep paralysis. The very nature of this phenomenon is unclear, so the effectiveness of prescribed medications is questionable.
Doctors advise that sporadic and rare episodes of sleep paralysis should not alarm you. In such cases, try to regulate your sleeping schedule and make sure you are getting enough sleep during the night. If you don’t sleep enough during the night, find time to take a short nap during the day.
It is also recommended that you restrain from alcohol and drugs, as well as cigarettes and coffee. Another recommendation is to remove all electronic devices from your bedroom.
And, most importantly, when sleep paralysis occurs, remember to stay calm and wait for it to pass.