Sleep Paralysis is one experience that almost all of us have been through at least once in our life. It is a dreadful kind of an experience when we can’t move, react or speak for a brief period during falling asleep or awakening. Sleeping paralysis is the middle stage between waking up and falling asleep. Most of the times, any person who experiences sleeping paralysis also experience some sort of hallucinations in which that person will not be able to react as a result of paralysis and they may feel some sort of current running on their upper body. These hallucinations or ghostly visions may occur which can lead to a feeling that some sort of supernatural creature is suffocating or terrifying the person and the person will feel difficulty in breathing. The person may also hallucinate about some person or intruder entering the room through the door or window. All these kind of feeling and experiences during sleep paralysis will leave the person shocked and terrorized. According to statistics, almost 8% of people have experienced sleep paralysis some time in their life.
Different researchers have come to a conclusion that there are different stages of sleep and sleep paralysis is an indicator that you are not moving smoothly through the different stages of the sleep. It has been linked to Genetics and deprivation of sleep. Similarly, it has also been linked to different other health issues like narcolepsy, migraines, anxiety disorders and obstructive sleep apnea. There can also be high chances of sleep paralysis if the person sleeps in fixed supine position. In rare situations, sleep paralysis is also linked to some sort of psychological problems. In ancient times and traditional folklore, Sleep paralysis has been related to some sort of supernatural forces or evil power. It has also been linked with aliens and their visit to earth time and again. There are stories related to sleep paralysis and its relation to the unknown in almost all of the cultures worldwide. People have always been looking to find the reasons for sleep paralysis and the terrorizing feeling that comes with sleep paralysis.
As already explained earlier, Sleep Paralysis occurs when you feel conscious but you can’t move properly. This occurs when we pass through different stages of wakefulness and sleep. In between these stages, we are not able to speak or move as a result of which we feel paralyzed for a few seconds to minutes. There can be other kinds of feelings like Choking and difficulty in breathing which occurs during sleep paralysis. There are other sleeping disorders like Narcolepsy which can happen along with sleep paralysis. In Narcolepsy, a person will have an urge to sleep because of the brain being unable to regulate sleep.
When does Sleep paralysis mostly occur?
It usually occurs at a time which depends on the type of sleep paralysis. It can either occur while you are asleep or it can also occur when you are awake. Hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis is that type of sleep paralysis which occurs when the person is falling asleep. In this condition, the body shuts down for REM sleep but the person still remains aware. Similarly hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis is that kind of sleep paralysis which occurs when the person is awake. In this case, the REM cycle is not complete but the person becomes aware when he is in the waking up. So both these types of sleep paralysis occur at different times. Both these type of paralysis can last from few seconds to few minutes and in some rare cases, it can also last for few hours. If it lasts for few hours then it may cause a lot of panic in the person.
Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis
This is the first type of sleep paralysis in which our body relaxes gradually when we fall asleep. We don’t notice the change as we are falling asleep slowly and we are not aware of the changes. But in this case of sleep paralysis, we become aware of the situation when falling asleep and then we feel that we cannot move or speak.
Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis
When we are sleeping, our body goes through the process of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). It takes 90 minutes for a whole cycle of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) to complete. NREM is the first to occur and it covers almost 75% of the total sleeping time. During the stage of NREM, the body begins to relax and it restores itself. While at the end of the NREM stage, we shift to REM stage in our sleep. It is during this stage that most dreams occur and our eyes also move very quickly. The body is quite relaxed at this stage. The whole body is in Turn off mode during this stage. And if we become aware or conscious during this stage before REM stage completes then we will realize that we cannot move our body or sleep.
Who may experience sleep paralysis?
Various scientific studies and researchers have been conducted to solve the mystery behind sleeping paralysis. It has boggled humans from ancient times. It was a matter of terror and it was linked with supernatural forces in the traditional period but those theories have been discarded by scientific studies. There are various data and statistics regarding the occurrence of sleeping paralysis among the people. In one study, it has been mentioned that almost 4 out 10 people have experienced sleeping paralysis. It is mostly experienced by teenagers but there is no specific age group in which people experience it. People of any age may fall victim to sleeping paralysis. And it also may occur regardless of the gender because it can happen to both men and women. It has also been linked to genetic inheritance because it was noted to be passed in families. There are various other factors which have been linked to the occurrence of sleeping paralysis. They are as given below.
- Sleep deprivation or lack of sleep can be a cause of sleep paralysis.
- If the sleep schedule has been changed then that may also result in sleep paralysis.
- A lot of stress, Bipolar disorder or similar mental condition can be a causing factor for sleep paralysis.
- Sleeping in an uncomfortable position or sleeping on the back may cause sleep paralysis too.
- Narcolepsy or nighttime leg cramps may cause sleep paralysis.
- Sleep paralysis can occur in people who are taking drugs for certain medical conditions like Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Those who are abusing drugs can also experience sleeping paralysis.
Diagnosis of Sleep Paralysis
Sleep Paralysis can be diagnosed easily by the person observing the symptoms. If you experience the condition in which you cannot move and speak for seconds to few minutes while you are waking up or falling asleep then there is a possibility that you are experiencing isolated recurrent sleep paralysis. Most of the times there may not be any necessity for treatment of Sleeping paralysis because the symptoms will go away after a few minutes. However, in certain conditions, you should seek consultations with the doctor. The symptoms in which you should seek medical advice is as follows.
- If you feel severe anxiety about the sleeping paralysis.
- If you are feeling too tired during your daily chores because of Sleeping paralysis.
- If you can’t sleep for the whole night because of the symptoms.
The doctor may want to know more about your medical history and pattern related to sleeping paralysis. So the doctor may ask a few questions which are as follows:
- You may be asked to describe the specific symptoms and keeping a sleep diary for a few weeks can also be quite helpful.
- Describe your health history including any kind of sleeping disorders occurring with you or your family.
- You may be referred to a sleep specialist for further reference and treatment.
- Conduct an overall study of the sleep disorder including overnight sleep and daytime nap to check if you have other types of sleeping disorders as well.
Treatment of Sleep Paralysis
When we experience any kind of health problem then it is obvious that we seek solution and treatment for that problem. It is the same case with sleeping paralysis as well. We may want to seek treatment for sleep paralysis but we need to keep in mind that in general cases sleeping paralysis doesn’t need any kind of treatment. However, there may be other types of problems related to sleep disorder or symptoms which may need to be treated. If there are any conditions such as narcolepsy which causes difficulty in sleeping and anxiety then it may be necessary to seek medical attention. There are other ways by which we can attempt in treating sleep paralysis which is as mentioned below.
- It is necessary to work on the sleeping habits. Always make sure that you get at least 6-8 hours of sleep every day.
- Antidepressant medication may be recommended by the doctors to make sure that you get a sound sleep if you have symptoms of depression too.
- If there are any mental health issues which may link up to sleep paralysis then treatment of those mental health issues is necessary.
- Other types of a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or leg cramps must also be treated properly.
Finally, what can be done?
If you have experienced Sleeping paralysis then there is no need to fear about demons, ghosts or supernatural activities. It’s neither the aliens who have come to abduct you nor any ghost who is trying to suffocate you. There are simple steps with which you can try to prevent any symptoms of sleeping paralysis. The first thing to remember is that try to get enough sleep every day. Stress does not do any good for sleep or overall health. So it is also important to get rid of any kind of stress. Avoid any kind of stress when you are going to sleep. If you have any problems then it would be better to leave them out of the bedroom. Similarly, it is advised to try sleeping in different sleeping positions if you experience sleep paralysis in a particular position. If sleep paralysis is causing too many problems for you and you are not able to get a proper sleep every day then it is necessary to visit a doctor and seek medical attention to your problems.