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Sleep Paralysis- Everything you need to know

Medikoe Health Expert

Medikoe Health Expert

  Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru     Sep 23, 2020

   7 min     

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Overview

It is said, "When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Your sleep will be sweet." But what if it all turns scary and you can not move or speak as you are waking up or falling asleep? Well, this is what sleep paralysis feels like? Although it is harmless, and most people will only get it once or twice in their life, it can result in high levels of anxiety.

Sleep paralysis is a state, during waking up or falling asleep, in which a person is conscious but unable to speak or move. During an episode, one may hallucinate (feel, see or hear things that are not there), which leads to fear. Episodes like these usually last between a few seconds and a couple of minutes.

What is sleep-paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary loss of muscle function while you're sleeping, known as atonia. It usually occurs-

  • while a person is falling asleep

  • shortly after the person has fallen asleep

  • while the person is waking up

Sleep paralysis is classified as a type of parasomnia. Parasomnias are abnormal behaviours during sleep. Since it is connected to the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of the sleep cycle, sleep paralysis is considered to be a REM parasomnia.

Sleep paralysis is a fairly common sleep condition and may occur in those who are otherwise healthy or people suffering from narcolepsy. It may also run in families as a result of specific genetic changes over the years. 

People usually experience sleep paralysis between the ages of 14 and 17 years old for the first time. This condition can be triggered by abnormal sleep cycles, sleep deprivation or psychological stress. 

Although it can feel alarming to some, sleep paralysis is not dangerous, and no medical intervention is ordinarily necessary.

Types of Sleep Paralysis

  • Isolated sleep paralysis- This is when the episodes aren't connected to an underlying diagnosis of narcolepsy- a neurological disease which limits the brain from properly controlling wakefulness and oftentimes leads to sleep paralysis.
  • Recurrent sleep paralysis- This involves multiple episodes of sleep paralysis over time. In some cases, both the above mentioned defining characteristics are further combined to define the third condition of RISP (recurrent isolated sleep paralysis), which includes ongoing instances of sleep paralysis in someone who does not have narcolepsy.

Symptoms of sleep paralysis

The most typical characteristic of an episode of sleep paralysis is the inability to move and speak. An episode of sleep paralysis may last for a few seconds to about a few minutes.

You may also experience symptoms like:

  • feeling fear

  • feeling like something or someone is in the room

  • feeling as if something or someone is pushing you down

  • hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences (HHEs) that are described as hallucinations during, right before, or after sleep

  • feeling as if you're going to die

  • feeling pressure on the chest

  • difficulty breathing

  • sweating

  • paranoia

  • headaches

  • muscle aches

In a few cases, some people encounter dreamlike hallucinations which may cause anxiety and fear, but these hallucinations are rather harmless.

What does sleep paralysis feel like?

The primary symptom of sleep paralysis is the inability to move the body. Around 75% of sleep paralysis episodes involve hallucinations which are different from typical dreams. Hallucinations can further be categorised into three types,

  • Vestibular-motor (V-M) hallucinations (feelings of movement-such as flying or out-of-body sensations)

  • Intruder hallucinations (perception of a dangerous presence or person in the room)

  • Chest pressure hallucinations (also called incubus hallucinations; incite a feeling of suffocation. Frequently occur along with intruder hallucinations)

Atonia is often quite distressing, and troubling hallucinations can only make these episodes even more bothersome. Therefore, sleep paralysis episodes are generally associated with fear, and only a few cases have blissful or more pleasant hallucinations.

Causes and risk factors

Children and adults of all ages can encounter sleep paralysis. However, specific groups are at a higher risk than others.

Groups that are at increased risk include people with the following conditions:

  • narcolepsy

  • insomnia

  • anxiety disorders

  • bipolar disorder

  • major depression

  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

Sleep paralysis is also generally caused due to a disconnect between body and mind, which happens while we are asleep. Having a disordered sleep schedule can also be linked to sleep paralysis. Rarely, this condition may also run in the family.

Diagnosis

No medical tests or screening are demanded to diagnose sleep paralysis.

The doctor will question you about your sleeping patterns and your medical history. They may also urge you to keep a sleep diary, documenting your dreams and experience during an episode.

Medical attention for sleep paralysis may help when:

  • the individual falls asleep suddenly or feels unusually sleepy during the day

  • there is anxiety about going to sleep or difficulty falling asleep

  • sleep paralysis happens regularly

The doctor may recommend you to participate in an overnight sleep study in some cases, to track your breathing and brain waves during sleep. This is usually only advised if sleep paralysis is troubling you to lose sleep.

Treatment

Sleep paralysis, which happens in isolation, doesn't usually require treatment. But if you also have any signs of narcolepsy, you should consult a doctor. This is particularly important when your symptoms conflict with home or work life.

The doctor may prescribe you some drugs to help manage the sleep paralysis in case narcolepsy is the cause behind it.

Prevention

You can reduce the symptoms or frequency of the episodes with some manageable lifestyle changes, like:

  • Exercise regularly but not close to bedtime.

  • Reduce stress in your life.

  • Get sufficient rest.

  • Keep track of medications you take for any conditions.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule.

  • Know the side effects and interactions of your different medications so you can avoid potential side effects, including sleep paralysis.

  • therapy

  • trauma counselling

  • breathing exercises and yoga to reclaim this sense of agency over your body

How Common is Sleep Paralysis?

Between 8% and 50% of people experience sleep paralysis at some point in their life. About 5% of people have regular episodes. Males and females are affected equally.

Sleep paralysis can happen at any age. However, first symptoms are most likely to show up during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood.

Is Sleep Paralysis a Serious Problem?

Sleep paralysis is not a serious problem for most people. It is generally classified as a benign ailment and does not happen frequently enough to cause anyone significant health problems.

However, an estimate of 10% of people has more bothersome or recurrent episodes that make sleep paralysis very distressing. As a result, they tend to reduce the time allotted for sleep or provoke anxiety around bedtime and develop negative thoughts about going to bed, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Sleep deprivation can further lead to extreme sleepiness and numerous other bad outcomes for a person’s overall health and wellness.

Sleep tips

  • ensuring a comfortable sleep environment, with suitable bedding and sleepwear and a clean, dark and cool bedroom
  • keeping bedtime and wake-up time consistent, even on holidays and weekends

  • getting good daylight exposure during waking hours

  • reducing light exposure in the evening and using night-lights for bathroom trips at night

  • avoiding napping after 3.00 p.m. and for longer than 90 minutes

  • not working or studying in the bedroom

  • not eating a heavy evening meal, or eating within 2 hours of going to bed

  • abstaining from evening alcohol or caffeine products

  • not sleeping with the lights or television on

  • exercising daily, but not within 2 hours of bedtime

  • putting electronics aside at least 1 hour before going to bed

  • leaving phones and other devices outside the bedroom

  • including a calming activity in the bedtime ritual, such as reading or listening to relaxing music

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Tags:  General Health ,Wellness,sleep paralysis, What is sleep-paralysis?, Sleep tips, Types of Sleep Paralysis, What does sleep paralysis feel like?, Symptoms of sleep paralysis, hallucinations

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