If you ever heard of or experienced the feeling when you’re “awake and asleep” at the same time and can’t move at all, then it was probably sleep paralysis. This condition affects less than 8 percent of the overall human population. Also, it was found that students and psychiatric patients are more likely to experience this rare condition compared to other people.
Due to the unpleasant sensation and a possibility of hallucinations, sleeping paralysis has been depicted as one of the worst events one could experience during sleep. However, if this occurred to you and you were also frightened, there’s actually not much to worry about. Once you understand what could be causing it and what actually happens during a sleep paralysis episode, it will be much easier for your brain to detach from that unpleasant feeling and relax if it occurs again.
So, let’s first explain what sleep paralysis is before listing out all the reasons that could be causing it.
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
People that were affected by this rare condition often define sleep paralysis as “a discrete period of time during which voluntary muscle movement is inhibited, yet ocular and respiratory movements are intact”. Sleep paralysis is that feeling of being completely conscious, but unable to move.
What happens is that actually the brain is not passing smoothly between the stages of wakefulness and sleep, which results in sleep paralysis. This condition usually occurs at two times: when you’re falling asleep (hypnagogic sleep paralysis) and after you’ve already fallen asleep (hypnopompic sleep paralysis).
When it comes to the predormital/hypnagogic sleep paralysis, what happens is that your body slowly relaxes before falling asleep. This process also includes a gradual decrease in your awareness, and what happens is that you’re actually never aware of the change that you’re not moving while you sleep. Because you’re not conscious and aware of it, you don’t notice the change. But, at times, when you remain, or suddenly become aware while falling asleep, you might experience the feeling of “not being able to move or speak”.
With postdormital/hypnopompic sleep paralysis, the situation is different and it mostly has to do with NREM and REM phases. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-rapid Eye Movement (NREM) are sleep cycles that both last about 90 minutes. NREM is the one that comes first and makes up to 75% of your entire sleep. This is the phase in which you body relaxes and regenerates.
REM phase is a sleep phase in which dreams occur, while the body is still very relaxed. So, although you might be thinking to move in your dreams, you won’t be really moving in reality. Your muscles aren’t active in REM cycle. Therefore, if you “wake up” and become aware before the REM cycle has finished, sleep paralysis might occur.
How Long Can Sleep Paralysis Last?
Sleep Paralysis can last from few seconds only to a couple of minutes. The feeling of fear might make this episode seem much longer, when in fact you could be only having it for 10-15 seconds. When it happens it can be the one-in-a-lifetime episode, but it could reoccur in certain situations again.
What Are The Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an overpowering need to sleep caused by a problem with the brain’s ability to regulate sleep.
As we previously mentioned the most obvious symptom of sleep paralysis is being completely aware while being temporarily unable to move or speak. But apart from that you can also experience following things:
- Have difficulties with breathing – You might feel pressure on your chest or have a sense of choking
- Be able to move your eyes – Some people will be able to open their eyes, while others won’t
- Feel very frightened – The sensation of being paralyzed, even temporarily, is normal to cause such a feeling.
- Have hallucinations – Some people stated that they had a sensation that there’s someone or something in the room which wishes them harm.
You will be able to speak and move normally afterwards, but the episode might make you feel anxious about going back to sleep.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
So if you have experienced such an episode, you would probably want to know why is this occurring to you? If sleep paralysis only struck you once so far, chances are you’re never going to experience it again.
However, some people might have sleep paralysis episodes more often, which will definitely make them wonder “Why does sleep paralysis happen to me?“.
Researchers have connected sleeping analysis with:
- Sleep deprivation or insomnia
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Family history of sleep paralysis
- Sleeping on your back
There are not enough evidence that would show what are the effects of sleep paralysis. This is due to the fact that this condition usually happens once in every while, which makes it a very difficult case to examine.
A study has also found that people with panic disorder were more likely to experience sleep paralysis. In fact, 35 percent of people with panic disorder surveyed reported having these episodes.
Why Are Some People More Prone To Developing Sleep Paralysis?
Apart from the above stated, as well as the statistic that reveals sleep paralysis is most common in students and psychiatric patients, there are other lifestyle factors that could also make this sleeping condition more likely to happen.
These factors are:
- Lack of sleep
- Inconsistent Sleeping Schedule
- Bipolar disorder
- Use of certain medications, such as those for ADHD
- Substance abuse
Is Sleep Paralysis a Symptom of a Serious Problem?
Sleep researchers agree that sleep paralysis is mostly a sign that your body is not moving well enough between the stages of sleep. It’s rarely a sign of an underlying psychiatric problem.
How Do I Treat Sleep Paralysis?
Usually sleep paralysis doesn’t need no treatment. Making sure you have a healthy sleep and you’re improving your sleep habits is the best way to prevent sleep paralysis episodes from reoccurring. Get enough sleep, reduce stress and try sleeping in new sleeping positions. Of course, if the episodes are keeping you away from getting enough sleep, schedule a visit to a sleep doctor that will help you overcome this issue.