Have you ever experienced a feeling of utter paralysis upon waking? Or perhaps felt that something was holding you down as you tried to wake up? It can certainly be quite scary and in olden times, people even thought that this phenomenon was caused by demons, ghosts, or aliens. Despite these fantastical claims, there is in fact a very logical and scientific explanation. Sleep paralysis can occur in just about anyone, including healthy people. It involves the person becoming mentally conscious while their bodies are still in a full sleep state. On average, between twenty to forty percent of people experience sleep paralysis. It has often been linked to the supernatural since it can often be accompanied by extremely vivid hallucinations. Some of the most likely causes of sleep paralysis include stress or major life changes.
History of Sleep Paralysis
When we go to sleep, our brains naturally disconnect the function that controls our motor abilities. This is a sort of safety tactic so that when we dream we won’t act out the dreams physically, and thus stay safe in our beds. However, if we somehow awaken at that point, it simply means that the mind has awoken before the body catches up. Hallucinations during this period can seem extremely real and the person may even hear sounds that didn’t occur or feel imaginary things touching them. Sleep paralysis can also lead to insomnia, panic attacks, or a deep sense of fear or dread. Each year, as many as four out of ten people might experience sleep paralysis. People of all ages can be affected, but it tends to be more common among teens. While some scientists suggest that sleep paralysis may be passed on genetically, they are still researching this theory for conclusive results.
- An Overview of Sleep Paralysis
- A Scientific Look at Sleep Paralysis
- What Happens During Sleep Paralysis?
- Sleep Paralysis Characteristics and Interpretations (PDF)
Causes and Symptoms
Among the major causes of sleep paralysis are factors that affect or interrupt a person’s normal sleep cycle. This can include major stress, jetlag, constantly changing schedules, and lack of sleep. Age is another common factor since young adults and teenagers are most often affected out of all age groups. In more serious cases, mental problems can also be an underlying cause. A few other sleeping disorders, such as narcolepsy, can also lead to sleep paralysis. People affected by sleep paralysis usually experience a sensation of waking up but being completely unable to move. They may also feel a heavy force on their chest, making it difficult to breathe. Hallucinations often occur, and are usually linked to the fear that the person is feeling. These hallucinations may manifest themselves as scary or threatening figures. Sleep paralysis happens before the REM (Rapid Eye Movement), or dreaming stage, begins. It can occur at the onset or offset of sleep. Most people who experience sleep paralysis may only go through it a couple of times in their entire lives. This is normal and does not pose any harm to their health. However, if it happens regularly, it is known as isolated sleep paralysis.
- Isolated Sleep Paralysis
- Causes of Isolated Sleep Paralysis
- Sleep Paralysis Risk Factors
- Students and Sleep Paralysis
- How Sleep Paralysis Causes Hallucinations
Diagnosis and Treatment
Those who only experience a few occurrences of sleep paralysis can try to ward it off by practicing better sleeping habits. This includes reducing stress by exercising, avoiding alcohol or caffeine before bedtime and adhering to a regular sleeping schedule. Apart from this, try to allow your body and mind to start relaxing by turning off the television, computer and other loud or distracting sources. If the sleep paralysis persists, it is best to consult with a doctor. When you visit the doctor, they may inquire about your sleeping habits, medications, and general lifestyle to get a better idea of your health. If you sleep with another person in the same bed, it could be helpful to bring them along to answer questions from the doctor. The doctor may prescribe antidepressants for severe cases or advise a better sleep routine to help ensure that you get enough rest. Another option is to visit a sleep clinic so that your brain activity can be monitored during sleep. For those with isolated sleep paralysis and other sleeping disorders, this is an excellent option that can give a more precise answer. A polysomnography test is an example of how a sleep clinic may study a patient’s symptoms. If the doctor suspects some type of underlying mental disorder, they may suggest further tests to verify what is wrong. There is currently no definitive known cure for sleep paralysis, but in general, healthy sleep routines and medication, if necessary, can help.
- Seeing a Doctor for Sleep Paralysis
- Sleep Paralysis Certainty and Controversy
- Sleep Disorders
- Isolated Sleep Paralysis
- Sleep Disorder Program Research
While sleep paralysis can be quite frightening and disturbing, there are actually ways to find help and to cope. Have a look at some of these resources to learn how to manage your sleep routine better and what to do during an episode of sleep paralysis.
- How to Cope and Break Out of Sleep Paralysis
- Maintain a Sleep Diary (PDF)
- Handling Sleep Paralysis
- Sleeping Habits Dos and Don’ts
- How to Sleep Well