Have you ever woken up, unable to move or speak? What you just experienced is called sleep paralysis, and those few seconds or minutes can be very terrifying for any individual who experiences them. This article takes time to give you all the necessary information on sleep paralysis.
What Exactly is Sleep Paralysis?
In sleep paralysis, you are conscious but unable to move. This occurs when an individual passes between phases of wakefulness and sleep. The paralysis occurs when you cannot move or speak for a while during these transitions, usually for a few seconds or minutes.
For some people, this phenomenon also involves pressure or a sense of choking. Sleep paralysis occurs either when an individual is falling asleep or when they are waking up. The former is called predormital or hynagogic sleep paralysis, while the latter is called postdormital or hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is one of the many types of parasomnias – abnormal behaviours during sleep. Usually, sleep paralysis episodes end on their own, but sometimes any form of stimulation is enough to break through the inability to move, such as a person's touch or voice.
Types of Sleep Paralysis
Generally, in the medical literature, two terms are used in trying to categorise sleep paralysis:
- Recurrent sleep paralysis: This involves a cycle of repeated episodes.
- Isolated sleep paralysis: In this case, the episodes are not associated with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a condition that impairs the brain's ability to regulate wakefulness and can lead to sleep paralysis.
Note that the two characteristics (isolated and recurrent) are often combined to describe recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP), in which a person does not have narcolepsy but experiences repeated episodes of sleep paralysis.
Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis
The primary symptom of sleep paralysis is the inability to make movements (referred to as Atonia). However, another symptom that accompanies sleep paralysis is hallucination. According to research, 75% of sleep paralysis episodes involve hallucinations that differ from dreams. Like Atonia, these hallucinations can occur either while falling asleep (hypnagogic hallucinations) or waking up (hypnopompic hallucinations).
The hallucinations that occur during sleep paralysis take three primary forms:
- Chest pressure hallucinations: Also called incubus hallucinations, they cause a feeling of suffocation. These often occur in conjunction with intruder hallucinations.
- Intruder hallucinations: These feature the perception of a potentially dangerous person or presence inside a room.
- Vestibular-motor (V-M) hallucinations: Here, there are feelings of movements, flight, and out-of-body sensations.
The combination of atonia (the inability to move) and hallucinations creates the next symptom of sleep paralysis – fear. Research shows that 90% of episodes are associated with fear, while just a minority experience more pleasant or blissful experiences.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
So far, the research on sleep paralysis causes has not given a conclusive result. So the exact cause(s) of the phenomenon is unknown. However, studies have revealed multiple factors that scientists believe are involved in provoking sleep paralysis.
For instance, there is a strong correlation between sleep disorders and isolated sleep paralysis. According to one study, 38% of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder characterised by repeated breathing lapses, experience sleep paralysis.
The risk of sleep paralysis is also higher for people who experience nighttime leg cramps.
In addition, sleep paralysis has been linked to certain mental disorders. It seems to be more common to experience the condition in people suffering from anxiety disorders or panic disorders. The victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and those exposed to childhood sexual abuse or other forms of physical or emotional abuse are some of those who are also more likely to suffer sleep paralysis.
Studies have also found a link between sleep paralysis and insomnia symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. Also, people with jet lag and disruptions to their sleep cycles may be affected by the phenomenon.
According to some studies, other people found to have higher risks of experiencing sleep paralysis include:
- Family histories of sleep paralysis. However, no specific genetic cause has yet been identified.
- Individuals who are imaginative or disengaged from their environment, such as those who daydream. It is also possible that vivid nightmares and/or dreams of lucidity may be associated with sleep paralysis.
Despite this level of knowledge, it is still unclear whether there is a causal connection. And, if so, whether the relationship is one way or if it is bidirectional. The numerous possible causes of sleep paralysis will need to be further studied to better understand these correlations.
Can Sleep Paralysis be Treated?
Just as with the cause, there is no concrete consensus on how to treat sleep paralysis cases. This is not fatal, as incidences of sleep paralysis are pretty common and are generally considered benign.
Nonetheless, if you are deeply concerned, you may wish to consult a doctor in order to find out if there is a medical condition influebcing its frequency or severity. As an example, your doctor may prescribe medication for narcolepsy or suggest ways to control sleep apnea.
Furthermore, improving your sleep hygiene is a common focus in preventing sleep paralysis due to its connection to general sleeping problems. The sleep hygiene a person practices refers to their sleeping environment and daily habits, which influence their sleep quality. Some tips that help improve sleep hygiene include:
- Set aside 30-60 minutes for device-free time before bed. Tablets, phones, and laptops produce blue light, which disrupts sleep and may reduce melatonin production.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. For example, try to sleep at the same time every night and get up each morning at a fixed time.
- Exercise Daily. If you commit to exercising every day for 30 minutes, you'll feel better and sleep better
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One more way to improve your sleep hygiene is by ensuring your sleep environment and materials support quality sleep. Therefore, you must select materials tailor-made to deliver comfortable and restful sleep. Our Cooler Weighted Blanket is an example of such materials made to give you a quality night's rest.