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What is Sleep Paralysis and How to Cope With it

by Sarah Kaminski 2 years ago in health
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If you’re having sleep paralysis episodes, first you need to know what it is to be able to go through this without panic and consequences. We’re here to help you with that.

Sleep paralysis is a terrifying thing. It feels like a horror movie scene. You’re awake, but you can’t move. Some people even feel as if someone is choking them or sitting on their chest during these episodes. But while it may seem like something mysterious, science has unveiled the answers to this phenomenon and there are ways to cope with it successfully.

If you’re having sleep paralysis episodes, first you need to know what it is to be able to go through this without panic and consequences. We’re here to help you with that.

Sleep paralysis explained

Although it doesn’t last longer than a few minutes, the feeling of not being able to move while being awake is scary. The phenomenon of sleep paralysis is scientifically explained as a sleep disorder that manifests as regained consciousness of the brain while the body experiences voluntary muscle paralysis linked to REM sleep. This causes reality and the dream world to overlap, which can even produce some unusual feelings and illusions similar to hallucinations. It is often accompanied by chest pressure, and can often go hand in hand with narcolepsy.

It can happen in two stages: as you are falling asleep (predormital sleep paralysis) or as you are waking up (postdormital sleep paralysis).

  • Predormital sleep paralysis happens while your body is slowly relaxing as you are falling asleep. This is the milder form of the disorder because it often occurs without you even noticing that you are unable to move.
  • Postdormital sleep paralysis happens when the body is transitioning between REM and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep stage. During the NREM phase, the body relaxes and then shifts to REM, in which the eyes move quickly and dreams happen. During that time, the muscles are not operative, which is why people are unable to move although their brain has partially regained consciousness.

What causes sleep paralysis?

Believe it or not, sleep paralysis is a relatively common occurrence. It can be experienced by four out of ten people. It usually appears in teen years, but both men and women of any age can experience it.

The disorder can be hereditary, but other factors can contribute to it. They include:

  • narcolepsy
  • an altered sleep schedule
  • nighttime leg cramps
  • stress
  • sleeping on the back
  • bipolar disorder
  • certain medications
  • substance abuse

Diagnosing sleep paralysis

You may have only one episode of sleep paralysis your entire life. But if you notice recurring episodes, it’s best to seek professional help. That’s especially if you’re tired all day after you’ve experienced the paralysis, unable to sleep because you’re afraid of having an episode, and if the condition generally induces anxiety.

Your doctor will ask you to describe the episodes and keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. They’ll also discuss your health history, especially conditions related to sleep disorders, and possibly refer you to a sleep specialist to conduct an overnight study.

Treating sleep paralysis

In most cases, sleep paralysis doesn’t require special medical treatment. However, if there is an underlying condition, such as narcolepsy, treating the root of the problem could be the solution. Here are some other things that are used as a treatment:

  • Using antidepressants for regulating sleep cycles
  • Treating underlying sleep disorders
  • Treating mental health issues that can contribute to sleep paralysis
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy can alleviate the symptoms related to sleep paralysis and prevent further episodes.

Usually, some lifestyle changes that contribute to improved sleep are sufficient to treat the disorder. This includes getting enough sleep every night, having a stable sleep schedule, and a sleep-inducing bedtime routine.

Living with sleep paralysis

There are some long-term changes you can implement in order to live more comfortably while knowing that sleep paralysis episodes can happen to you when you least expect it. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t fall asleep on your back.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.
  • Try to create a sleep environment that promotes peaceful, uninterrupted sleep.
  • Learn some muscle relaxation techniques.
  • Try hard to move your extremities (legs, toes, fingers, hands) to disrupt the episode.

Final word

While it’s scary, sleep paralysis doesn’t have to paralyze your entire life. Make sure you understand the roots of the problem first and then address it properly according to the degree to which it affects your life. Good night, and good luck.


About the author

Sarah Kaminski

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