Sleep paralysis: If you’ve ever woken up at night unable to move, here’s what it means.
Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious, but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep.
Undoubtedly, there is nothing stranger that to wake up and not being able to move any part of the body, even though you are completely aware of everything around you. This condition is known as sleep paralysis, and is an extremely frightening phenomenon.
In this case, the individual is entirely conscious, but his/her body is absolutely paralysed. Since the person cannot control the body, he becomes really terrified and disturbed.
However, you should know that this phenomenon is common and does not lead to any physical damage to the body. Namely, it occurs during one of two stages –“hypnagogic” and “hypnopompic.”
The first one happens before falling asleep, while hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs as soon as the person wakes from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
As soon as we fall asleep, our body gets relaxed and the mind becomes less aware. Yet, in the case of hypnagogic sleep paralysis, our mind remains aware while our body is in an involuntary relaxation state. Therefore, the individual realizes that although he tries hard, he cannot move, and this may often be extremely terrifying and may cause a panic attack.
On the other hand, during REM sleep, the muscles are paralyzed, but as soon as the individual experiences hypnopompic sleep paralysis, some part of his brain wakes. Yet, this does not mean that the part of the brain that controls the REM paralysis wakes as well. Therefore, one may be in an awaken state, but he cannot voluntary control his muscles.
Some people never experience this phenomenon, or some have gone through it once or twice in their life. However, there are others who experience it often, even several times during the week.
According to a study conducted at Penn State University, around 8 percent of the population frequently experiences sleep paralysis.
Moreover, people with mental disorders, like depression and anxiety, are more susceptible to frequent episodes of these issues, as well as people with an underlying sleep condition, those with sleep apnea, and individuals which take some specific medications.
Some of the risk factors of sleep paralysis are as follows:
- Sleep problems like nighttime leg cramps or narcolepsy
- Lack of sleep
- Mental conditions, like bipolar disorder or stress
- Substance abuse
- Frequent changes in sleep schedule
- Certain medications, like the ones with ADHD
- Sleeping on the back
In the case of a sleep paralysis, people cannot speak or move for several seconds or minutes, most often shortly after they have fallen asleep, or immediately after waking up.
In most cases, this issue is not medically treated, but at times, the doctor may inquire into other aspects of the sleep health, and if the sleep conditions get worse, he may even ask the help of a sleep specialist.
There is usually not a prescribed treatment, as this paralysis happens naturally. Yet, if an expert finds another underlying condition in the process of diagnosis, he may prescribe a treatment, such as:
- Treatment of any underlying sleep disorders
- Prescription for sleeping aids
- Referral to a mental health professional
- Implementation of a sleeping schedule
- Prescription for an anti-depressant
- Referral to a sleep specialist
Sometimes, you may prevent sleep paralysis episodes if you successfully reduce the stress before going to sleep and make the healthy sleep your priority.
Moreover, if you experience this once, you should not immediately seek a professional help. If these issues are rare, doctors advise that you pay more attention to your sleeping habits, and sleep well for 8 hours, as lack of sleep often contributes to the occurrence of these issues.
Furthermore, you should reduce or completely eliminate the intake of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol/drugs, nicotine and caffeine, and do not keep your electronic devices close to your bed while sleeping.
However, if you have experiences a sleep paralysis, it is likely to happen again, so remember that it is nothing terrifying and it will pass soon, so you should try to stay calm