Sleep Paralysis: Symptoms & Treatment

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Sleep Paralysis
Supriya Singh
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Sleep paralysis is a somewhat scary experience. It is a type of sleep disorder that falls under parasomnia, which means showing unusual behavior while sleeping. 

We often see this type of parasomnia in horror movies. Many in fact debate and explain the relationship between this horrifying experience and the supernatural. Spooky ha!

Now, walking down the paranormal path is a bit complicated. On a different note, there are actually several reasons why people experience it. 

If you have been experiencing this particular sleep disorder or want to know more, keep on reading. Here, in this article, we will be covering the symptoms of sleep paralysis, the causes of this type of sleep disorder, and its treatment.

Now what exactly is sleep paralysis?

During sleep paralysis, you will be fully awake, but you won’t be able to move your body or speak. The inability of muscle movement is also known as atonia. In short, your brain is wide awake and active while your body is still in sleeping mode. 

This occurrence lasts a few seconds, but for some, it continues for several minutes. Horrifying, isn’t it?

During sleep paralysis, you may also get the feeling of someone choking you, with or without visual hallucinations. Don’t worry, you won’t get hurt but there will be a feeling of anxiety and fear once it is over.

Symptoms of sleep paralysis:

To help you understand better, these are some sleep paralysis common symptoms:

  • Unable to move your body at all on falling asleep or while waking up. 
  • Unable to speak during this situation.
  • See someone who is not really there.
  • Get the feeling of dying.
  • A feeling of getting choked or heavy pressure on your chest.
  • Difficult to breathe, and you may get tears.
  • Body chills and the feeling of sweating at the same time while you are unable to move and speak.

Hallucinations during sleep paralysis

The experience of sleep paralysis is almost the same for all. You may experience visual, sensory, or auditory hallucinations during an episode. Although it is all in our minds, some people always try to relate these occurrences with the supernatural. 

However, keeping this horror genre aside, the hallucinations are categorized into three types – 

  • The feeling of someone else’s presence with you. A shadowy being, or hearing sounds of doorknobs creaking, footsteps. 
  • The feeling of someone applying immense pressure on your chest or neck, sexually assaulting you. You may feel like dying at this moment. 
  • Out of body experience or feel like you are spinning or falling.

Why does sleep paralysis occur?

Sleep paralysis usually occurs when there is a disruption while transitioning from NREM sleep to REM sleep and vice versa. 

When we go to sleep, our body goes through two categories of sleep – NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). As you fall asleep, you first go through NREM sleep, where the body relaxes and rejuvenates itself. 

This stage is followed by REM sleep where dreams occur along with rapid eye movement. However, the rest of the body stays in atonia. The state of atonia while we sleep is an evolutionary development of our muscles to prevent our bodies from acting out in our dreams. 

 One cycle of NREM-REM sleep lasts for at least 90 minutes. These two sleep stages continue in a cycle all night when we sleep.These two sleep stages continue in a cycle all night when we sleep.

What are the possible causes of sleep paralysis?

The fact is four out of ten people may experience this type of sleep disorder at some point in life. You may develop this condition at any age. But why does it happen? What triggers sleep paralysis? 

There is a lot to study and understand the exact reason why sleep paralysis occurs. But there are a few common causes or triggers that may lead to sleep paralysis such as:

  • Continuous disruption in your sleep for a significant amount of days
  • Frequent change in your sleep cycle
  • Taking extreme stress
  • Thinking of stressful and unpleasant things right before sleeping
  • Sleeping on your back all night
  • Suffering from sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea
  • Went through a traumatic experience leading to PTSD
  • Possibly due to underlying mental illness in rare cases

Apart from these, the intake of certain medications for ADHD, the consumption of illicit drugs, too much alcohol is also seen to cause sleep paralysis in some people. Moreover, experts say, this type of sleep disorder may also be a sign of mental illness like clinical depression, hypertension, bipolar disorder. 

It is also worth knowing that in some cases it may due to the genetic disposition.

What to do at the moment of sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a scary moment indeed! Not able to speak or move while you are fully aware is like being a horror story! You may panic at that moment, and although mostly it only lasts for a few seconds, for you, it may feel like minutes or more.

Sleep Paralysis

So, if you sleep alone and you experience sleep paralysis, try to stay strong and calm. The episode will eventually end, so don’t worry. Otherwise, if you sleep next to someone, you can advise them in advance about this, and ask them to wake you up during this experience. 

Now, you may ask if I can’t speak and move, how will someone know? Well, some people may be able to make some squeaking sound, while looking petrified. That’s the cue!

Warning: Waking up the person from sleep paralysis is not easy, you must nudge the person a bit harder than usual. 

Diagnosis of sleep paralysis

There is no standard way of diagnosing this type of sleep disorder. But if the episodes are occurring very frequently and it happens more than once at a time regularly, then you must immediately consult a doctor. Commonly such cases are handled by neurologists.

Your doctor may enquire about your recent day to day activities, any major changes that may be affecting your mental health, your sleeping habits, medical history of your family. 

In some unlikely situations, doctors also refer such patients to a sleep doctor and keep them overnight for a sleep study.

Sleep Paralysis

Treatment for sleep paralysis 

If there is no underlying mental illness, other related sleep disorders, then the only treatment for sleep paralysis is rectifying your lifestyle habits. 

  • Improve your sleep cycle. Going to bed at a decent time and waking up early. For some, it may seem like a humongous task. Changing our sleep cycle is no easy task but not impossible. 
  • Setting the ambiance of the bedroom for a good night’s sleep
  • Avoid consumption of caffeine in the evening or a few hours before your bedtime.
  • Stay away from alcohol until this issue is resolved.
  • Avoid sleeping on the back.
  • If you have been facing issues with stress, try taking stress buster techniques like mediation, hypnotic meditation.
  • Doctors may also prescribe antidepressants, sleeping pills in extreme cases.

Bottom Line

The fact is, in rare cases, sleep paralysis is a symptom of underlying mental illness. Every one of us reacts and deals with a stressful environment in our own ways. Mostly, people experience it due to stress, ruminating thoughts that affect the mind excessively. 

Stress, anxiety, negative thoughts, and unhealthy lifestyle are bad overall for our overall health and the most common reason for sleep paralysis. So, try to lead a healthier, happier, and responsible lifestyle.

Take care♥