Sleep paralysis is the temporary yet frightening inability to speak or move while sleeping or after waking up. It's an episode of paralysis that lasts seconds to two minutes, and cultures worldwide have different theories for it. Some say it's a sign of evil spirits, while many believe it's a consequence of the body's stiffness while sleeping.
Regardless of the controversial statements of scholars or conflicting ideas based on cultural experiences, sleep paralysis happens, and it's real. One of the causes is the inability to enjoy sufficient sleeping hours. Lacking enough sleep may even affect your productivity at work, gym, or in social life.
While supplements like the ones clarified in the BarBend review and other healthy practices are recommended for healthy sleeping hours, it's essential to identify the root cause of sleep paralysis, the symptoms, treatment, and prevention. You'd be able to know if you have the illness and find a way out of the distressing pre or post-sleeping loop in this article.
Sleep Paralysis and How it Happens
Some researchers believe that nightmares are also a cause of paralysis. It's called the REM parasomnias nightmare disorder and recurrent isolated sleep paralysis, which is significant because of how scary it could've been. According to statistics, four out of ten people have probably had sleep paralysis at some point, and the condition occurs in teens and adults. However, what happens during this episode?
An individual suffering from sleep paralysis would probably feel like someone who wasn't in the room is now there with them. They may also feel like something is holding them down to their bed, like thick wads of ropes are tied around them. If it's neither of the above, it could be an inability to move or speak while the eyes lay open and the mind is as active as ever. These feelings may last a few seconds or extend to minutes. So, why do they happen?
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis features an inability to feel the muscles when the mind and brain are active. Any of the following can be responsible for it:
Insomnia is an inability to sleep regularly or at will. You have insomnia if you can't sleep when you want to, you wake up regularly during the night, or your eyes and mind stay active when you should be sleeping. It also happens when you feel tired, rather than renewed, when you wake up.
Another symptom of insomnia is when you can't nap during the day, even when you're exhausted. It's generally caused by stress, depression, anxiety, noise, uncomfortable bed, jet lag, alcohol, or nicotine.
- Disrupted Sleeping Patterns
You'd have unusual sleep patterns if you have sleep paralysis. However, you can also have it if you change your shift hours, suffer from jet lag, or you're disoriented by stress. It could happen if you have trouble sleeping at night because you're taking care of a child or you're suffering from panic attacks.
This rare yet long-term brain condition makes you fall asleep without intent to do so. It makes it difficult for your brain to regulate and track your sleeping hours. After all, your sleeping hours result from how the brain understands your body.
Therefore, excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep attacks, loss of muscle control leading to weaknesses, and hallucinations are common signs of this illness. It's usually caused by hormonal changes (puberty or menopause), psychological stress, or an infection like swine flu.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This anxiety disorder is caused by frightening events (and the episodes of the sleeping disorder can also intensify it). It happens when previous traumatic events relive in your subconscious or conscious mind. These could be flashbacks or nightmares and could even occur when you see someone who reminds you of the event. In this context, you could relive road accidents, robbery cases, violent assaults, painful childbirth experiences, or other relatively tragic events.
However, sleep paralysis can also occur due to general anxiety disorder, panic disorder (from the same factors that cause PTSD), and if you have a history of sleep paralysis in your genealogy. The only way to find out is to spot the symptoms in your body and health.
Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis
There are many signs to know if an individual has sleep paralysis. Here is an overview of some of the most significant symptoms:
Paralysis in Your Limbs
If you've ever experienced sleep paralysis, one thing that happens is the inability to move. Something has affected your limbs, making it impossible to roll to the other side of the bed or lift your body from it. If you'd just had a nightmare, this same symptom makes fighting to get out of bed impossible.
- Inability to Speak
It occurs after waking up and could take about two minutes to stop. You could want to scream from a nightmare and realize you're incapable of words. It doesn't mean you must've had a nightmare before you experience sleep paralysis; it happens with or without nightmares.
- A Feeling of Suffocation
If you ever feel like you're struggling to breathe when you wake up, it's a symptom of sleep paralysis. You would feel like you're choking as if someone is restricting your abilities to move, speak, or react to your environment. It's scary, even if it doesn't happen often.
It's when you perceive what isn't present or hear a voice with no apparent source. It also occurs when you smell, touch, or taste something that isn't there.
Other symptoms are fear and panic resulting from what's happening to you, leading to feelings of helplessness. Aside from these, you could also feel a tightening around your throat, in addition to the daytime sleepiness and other symptoms of narcolepsy.
Treatment for Sleep Paralysis
The treatment for what you feel depends on how severe it is. If it's frequent, you may need to visit a doctor. If you experience it once in a while and can identify that it's sleep paralysis, the following are easy treatments to consider. You can start by:
- Improving Your Sleeping Habits: Please ensure that you sleep for a minimum of six to eight hours every night. Unhealthy sleeping hours could make you feel these symptoms in the morning, especially if it has become a routine.
- Pay Attention to Your Mental Health: Pay attention to your mental health issues like panic attacks or PTSD. These issues must be linked to sleep paralysis, as adhering to treatments will make you feel better in the long term.
- Schedule a Visit to a Doctor: Visiting a doctor is your last resort if any of the above doesn't work. If prescribed, you should take antidepressant medications to regulate your sleeping hours. The drug could be fluoxetine or others that are proven to work. Your doctor may also recommend stimulants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to help you manage sleep paralysis.
- Your doctor may also recommend non-drug treatments. It could be avoiding blue lights an hour or two before sleeping. Blue lights affect your retinas and keep you awake even when you want to sleep.
Prevention of Sleep Paralysis
There are many ways to prevent sleep paralysis. If it has occurred and you have gotten the proper treatment, you can also do some things to prevent a recurrence. Some of the ways to prevent reoccurrence are:
- Reduce stressful activities to feel less tired every day.
- Exercise regularly to improve your physical and mental health.
- Create a regular sleep schedule to stay on top of your sleeping and waking hours and avoid sleep disorders.
- Considering yoga to overcome health issues.
- Try therapy to stay in charge of your subconscious and psychological health.
Sleep paralysis is a condition that may lead to a more severe health condition if unattended. The illness could be severe for some individuals and mild for others, but regardless of the frequency, ensure to pay attention to it and seek treatment.
Some major causes of this condition include insomnia, narcolepsy, disrupted sleeping patterns, and PTSD. When it happens, you'd feel paralysis in your limbs, would be unable to speak, and could also feel a force pushing you down to your bed. However, you can fix this medical condition with any of the treatments recommended above.
While sleep paralysis is extremely terrifying, it's relatively harmless to your health. However, here are some treatment options:
- More than likely your sleep paralysis is linked to poor sleeping habits. Therefore, try making sure you get enough sleep every night. And keep your sleep regular, meaning, go to sleep at approximately the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning. For more information on how to "set your body clock" click here.
Treat any mental health issues such as stress or bipolar disorder.
Get evaluated by your primary care physician or a sleep specialist to see if your sleep paralysis is linked to any other sleep disorders (such as narcolepsy), or medical disorders.
If your symptoms are severe you may be prescribed antidepressant medications that may help regulate your sleep cycles.
There you have it: the symptoms, causes, & treatments for sleep paralysis. On a personal note, just having a scientific explanation for the disorder I was experiencing really helped alleviate my fears for when I would experience episodes. The knowledge that although the events were indeed terrifying, knowing that they were relatively harmless helped me get through later episodes. I also noticed that since I started keeping a regular sleep schedule, I haven't had an episode in a very long time. However, if you feel that your symptoms could possibly be linked to an underlying sleeping disorder, feel free to contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10-minute phone consultation, and we'll help you determine whether or not a sleep study may be right for you.