Sleep paralysis is a frightening condition. It occurs between stages of wakefulness and sleep, during which a person may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Symptoms of sleep paralysis include sensations of noises, terror and smells.
What is sleep paralysis?
Have you ever felt like you were awake but unable to move? Or felt afraid, but unable to call for help? If yes, then you have experienced sleep paralysis. It is a condition in which you may be conscious, but are unable to move. Sometimes you may feel frightened and see or hear things that aren’t real.
Sleep paralysis may strike once or frequently through the night. During an episode of sleep paralysis, a person may also experience a real sensation that there’s someone else in the room with them. These types of hallucinations are common in sleep paralysis, but not in all cases. Additionally, there are various factors that may be the cause of sleep paralysis. These include age, sleep deprivation, family history and irregular sleeping patterns.
When does sleep paralysis occur?
Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. It could be:
- Hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis: This type of sleep paralysis occurs while you are falling asleep. Your body slowly relaxes as per routine, lowering your inhibitions and that is why you may not notice its onset. However, if you remain aware while falling asleep, you may realize that you cannot move or speak.
- Hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis: This occurs as you are waking up. In sleep, the body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). One cycle of REM and NREM lasts for 90 minutes. At first, NREM sleep occurs and takes up to 75% of your sleep time. During this sleep, your body relaxes and regenerates itself. Your sleep shifts to REM at the end of NREM sleep. During REM sleep your eyes move quickly and dreams occur, but your body and muscles remain relaxed. If you come to awareness before the REM cycle has finished, you may notice that you cannot move or speak.
Why does sleep paralysis occur?
The causes of sleep paralysis are many.Usually, it happens when parts of the rapid eye movement (REM) state of sleep persist or are forced into wakefulness. It means that you are temporarily paralyzed, but fully conscious. Teens and young people are the most frequent victims of sleep paralysis and up to as many as four out of 10 people may have this condition. Both men and women of any age experience sleep paralysis.
Here are various risk factors associated with sleep paralysis:
- Lack of sleep
- Changes in sleep schedule
- Various mental conditions including stress or bipolar disorder
- Sleep problems like night-time leg cramps or narcolepsy (inability to stay awake for more than three or four hours)
- Use of certain medications
- Substance abuse including illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroine
How do you treat sleep paralysis?
Treatment for sleepparalysis is not very difficult. You just need to make some changes in your sleeping patterns based on recommendations from your doctor. In some cases, you may be prescribed medication to treat your condition.
Here are some tips to improve your sleeping habits:
- To prevent sleep paralysis, you need to sleep for six to eight hours every night.
- Stick to your sleeping schedule by going to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
- Create a calm, quiet and dark sleeping environment.
- Cut down on caffeine.
- Give up smoking.
- Avoid eating or drinking alcohol before bedtime.
Your doctor may prescribe a short course of anti-depressant medication like Tricyclic anti-depressant (TA), typically Clomipramine, to treat severe sleep paralysis. Dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision and drowsiness are some side-effects that you may experience after taking Clomipramine. The side-effects may subside after seven to 10 days, as your body gets used to the medication. If they don’t, please visit your GP.
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Sleep paralysis was once considered very rare, but studies have shown that up to half of the global population is now believed to experience this condition. It may not be a severe illness, but if it goes untreated, may prove a frightful experience. Steer clear of it by managing your sleep, and where required, taking prescribed medication.