Sleep paralysis is a feeling of not being able to move either at the beginning of sleeping or just after waking up. Even though an individual’s senses are intact he or she might feel as though there is pressure on them as though they are choking. In most cases, this can be accompanied by severe hallucinations and intense fear.
Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis: Causes and Symptoms
Sleep paralysis can be quite life-threatening, but it can also cause anxiety and in some rare cases, it can even cause other sleep disorders like narcolepsy. This usually starts during an individual’s adolescent years, but it can become quite serious during their 20s and 30s. However, sleep paralysis is not a very serious risk.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is commonly recognized as a parasomnia or an undesirable event that is associated with sleep. The episodes are usually accompanied by hypnagogic experiences like visual, auditory, and sometimes even sensory hallucinations. These are known to occur during the transition between sleeping and waking. These hallucinations usually fall into three main phases or categories.
The first category is the Intruder category, where the victim may hear the occasional sounds of doorknobs opening and closing, shuffling footsteps, a shadow man, or even in some cases the presence of a threatening individual in the room when alone.
The next category is Incubus. In this phase, the victim may feel pressure on the chest, can have difficulty breathing with the sense of being smothered, strangled, and sometimes sexually assaulted. The individual experiencing these may become suicidal and violent at times.
The third category consists of the Vestibular motor. Here, the individual feels like he or she is spinning, falling, floating, flying, hovering, and in some cases, some even feel like they experience an out body experience.
Sleep paralysis has always fascinated scientists for centuries. A lot has been documented over time. Several people from different cultures have had similar experiences. Sleep Paralysis is brief and certainly not life-threatening. However, the person who has experienced it may remember it as a rather haunting and horrifying experience.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
While sleeping, the human body tends to relax and voluntary muscles do not move. This is done so that the sleeping person does not hurt himself or herself while sleeping, especially due to acting out dreams. Sleep paralysis involves disruption or a fragmentation of the rapid eye movement sleep cycle, also known as the REM sleep cycle.
The body tries to alternate between the rapid eye movement, (also known as REM) and non- rapid eye movement (Also known as the NREM)
A single REM and NREM cycle can last around 90 to 100 minutes, and most of the time is spent sleeping in NREM. During the NREM phase, the body tends to relax. During the REM phase, the eyes tend to move more quickly, but the body remains relaxed. It is at this time that most dreams occur.
In sleep paralysis, the body’s transition to or from the Rapid Movement Sleep cycle is out of sync with the brain. In this case, the person’s consciousness is awake, but their body continues to remain in the paralyzed sleep state.
The areas of the brain that detect these threats are in a heightened state and are usually overly sensitive.
The factors that have been linked to sleep paralysis include- narcolepsy, irregular sleep patterns caused due to jet lags or a shift in work, sleeping on your back, and sometimes even a family of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis can also be a symptom of other medical problems such as clinical depression, migraines, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, and anxiety disorders.
Signs and symptoms of sleep paralysis
The signs and symptoms of sleep paralysis include-
- The individual might feel an inability to move the body when falling asleep or on waking, lasting for seconds or several minutes
- The individual suffers from being consciously awake
- The individual finds a lot of difficulty in being able to speak during the episode
- The individual will be having constant hallucinations and sensations that cause fear
feeling pressure on the chest
- The individual will have difficulty breathing
- The victim might convince him/ herself of a feeling as if death is approaching
- The individual will be constantly sweating
- Might suffer from constant headaches, muscle pains, and paranoia
Sometimes even non- threatening sounds and sensations might cause the individual to become uncomfortable and might look for comfort.
What should be done?
Sleep paralysis is not usually considered to be a medical diagnosis, but if it shows symptoms and the individual does not seem to improve in sleep, then it is high time and a good idea to pay a visit to the doctor.
Medical assistance is very necessary in some cases. It comes in handy when-
- The individual seems to face sleep paralysis on a regular basis.
- The individual faces a lot of stress, anxiety, and a sudden feeling of uneasiness or difficulty before falling asleep.
- The individual might fall asleep suddenly, or if the individual seems to be sleepy and uneasy throughout the day.
If the individual happens to fall asleep suddenly sometime during the day, then that could be the first sign of narcolepsy. This is a rare brain disorder that can cause a person to fall asleep or lose muscle control at unpredictable, unexpected, and inappropriate times.
Sleep paralysis has no specific treatment, but stress management and a regular sleep schedule sure help. Observing some good sleep habits can reduce the possibility of sleep paralysis.
Try some of the common sleep habits like going to bed early, all this while maintaining a consistent sleep time even on weekends. Try to not sleep with disturbances around you, like lights or the T V. Avoid having a heavy evening meal, or eat within two hours of going to sleep. Try not to drink caffeine or alcoholic products before sleeping. Cigarette smoking is a big no before bed!
If you or a family member is experiencing sleep paralysis, seek medical help immediately. Understand the psychology behind a healthy sleep and maintain it to have a healthy and wonderful life.