Sleep paralysis occurs when a person’s consciousness is awake, but their body is still in a paralyzed state of sleep. The person may be unable to speak and feel pressure on their chest, among other symptoms. During sleep paralysis, a person’s senses and consciousness are active and awake, but their body cannot move. It occurs when the person falls asleep or wakes up and results from the desynchronization of body and mind. During sleep paralysis, a person may experience sound and visual hallucinations, which can cause great distress.
In this article, we detail the causes and symptoms of sleep paralysis and what a person can do to reduce their risk of experiencing it.
What is sleep paralysis?
During sleep, the body relaxes and the voluntary muscles do not move. This helps to avoid getting hurt while making dreams come true. A person can wake up while their body is in this state of relaxation. This is sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis occurs between wakefulness and sleep. During episodes, people may have hypnopompic or hypnagogic hallucinations, which can be visual, auditory, and sensory. These hallucinations occur when the person wakes up or falls asleep, respectively. Sleep paralysis is not life threatening, but it can cause anxiety. It can occur at the same time as other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy. It often begins in adolescence and can become frequent between the ages of 20 and 30. It affects approximately 7.6% of people during their lifetime. It is a parasomnia, that is, an adverse event associated with sleep.
In sleep paralysis, the body’s transition to or from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is out of sync with the brain. The person’s consciousness is awake, but his body remains in the paralyzed state of sleep. The body alternates between rapid eye movements (REM) and non-rapid eye movements (NREM). A REM-NREM cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and most of the time spent sleeping is spent in the NREM state. During the NREM phase, the body relaxes. During REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly, but the body is relaxed. This is when dreams happen. Areas of the brain that sense threats are on high alert and overly sensitive.
Factors that can increase the risk of sleep paralysis include:
irregular sleep patterns, for example due to jet lag or shift work
a family history of sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis can be a symptom of medical conditions, including
obstructive sleep apnea
high blood pressure
Signs and symptoms
The main symptom of sleep paralysis is the inability to move the body when falling asleep or waking up. However, during these episodes, people may have other symptoms, including
the inability to speak during the episode
have hallucinations and sensations
feel pressure in the chest
headaches and muscle aches
Most people only experience sleep paralysis once or twice in their lifetime. However, if a person has recurrent sleep paralysis that causes anxiety, stress, or impacts their quality of life, they may wish to seek medical assistance. A doctor will assess a person’s symptoms and complete medical history when diagnosing sleep paralysis. If he suspects the episodes may be the result of other conditions, he may recommend the person participate in a sleep study.
Treatment and prevention
There is no specific treatment for sleep paralysis, but managing stress, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and observing good sleep habits can reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis.
Strategies to improve sleep hygiene include:
ensure 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night
ensure that bedtime and wake-up times are consistent
maintain a dark and temperate bedroom
reduce light exposure in the evening and use night lights to go to the bathroom at night
exposure to daylight during waking hours
not having a heavy meal in the evening or eating within two hours of bedtime
refrain from consuming alcohol or caffeine in the evening
exercise daily, but not within two hours of bedtime.
Understanding the physiology of sleep and the mechanism of sleep paralysis is an important step in overcoming it. Ongoing stress and disruption of the sleep cycle can have serious health consequences. Healthy sleep habits are not only necessary for managing sleep paralysis, but also for overall health and well-being.
Medicines and therapy
If a person has sleep paralysis due to narcolepsy or other sleep disorders, a doctor may recommend drug treatments or psychotherapy to manage these conditions.
Drug treatments that can help manage sleep paralysis associated with narcolepsy include Safe Source:
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Doctors may be able to educate and reassure people for whom sleep paralysis causes stress and anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help people develop coping mechanisms for sleep paralysis events and address underlying causes, such as insomnia and poor sleep habits.
how to wake up
A person wakes up naturally from sleep paralysis. Although the event may be scary, it will pass with time. It is impossible to force one’s body out of a state of paralysis.
During sleep paralysis, a person is awake and cognitively able, but cannot move their body. It happens when a person’s mind and body are out of sync when falling asleep or waking up. During sleep paralysis, a person may experience sound, visual, and sensory hallucinations. Many people will only experience sleep paralysis once or twice in their lifetime. However, people with narcolepsy and other sleep disorders have a higher risk of suffering from sleep paralysis.
There is no treatment for sleep paralysis and it is not a medical emergency. However, episodes can cause significant distress.