Sleep paralysis is just super frightening to begin with, so it often triggers a panicked response with increased heart rate. And indeed, many people report feeling an undeniably strange or scary presence as this happens to them.
Meanwhile researchers conclude that, in most cases, sleep paralysis is simply a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. Rarely is sleep paralysis linked to deep underlying psychiatric problems.
Generally sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move or speak as you’re falling asleep or waking up.
The sensation occurs when in a hynopompic state (when waking up) or a hypnogogic state (when falling asleep), where the person is completely aware of their surroundings whilst being asleep.
Wikipedia defines Sleep paralysis as a phenomenon in which an individual, either during falling asleep or awakening, briefly experiences an inability to move, speak, or react. It is often described as an out-of-body experience. But after the episode passes you will be able to move and speak as normal.
According to Online Medical Magazine, WebMD, this 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.
How long does sleep paralysis last?
Although it will feel like the sleep paralysis is lasting an excruciatingly long time in the moment, the episode generally tends to last for only a few seconds.
When Does Sleep Paralysis Usually Occur?
Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it’s called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it happens as you are waking up, it’s called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis.
How common is sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is not uncommon, with some surveys suggesting that 25-30% of the population will experience some form of sleep paralysis at least once in their life. For most people, experiencing sleep paralysis is a one-off episode, while others experience it more frequently with some experiencing it a few times a month.
What can cause sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a natural occurrence and can happen to anyone. While there’s no definitive cause of sleep paralysis, it is most commonly linked to sleep deprivation, irregular sleeping patterns, stress, depression and some prescription medications. In some cases it can be down to more serious causes like a family history of sleep paralysis or narcolepsy, and in others, it can be simply down to sleeping on your back.
Other factors that may be linked to sleep paralysis include:
- Lack of sleep
- Sleep schedule that changes
- Mental conditions such as stress or bipolar disorder
- Sleeping on the back
- Other sleep problems such as narcolepsy or nighttime leg cramps
- Use of certain medications, such as those for ADHD
- Substance abuse
How Is Sleep Paralysis Diagnosed?
If you find yourself unable to move or speak for a few seconds or minutes when falling asleep or waking up, then it is likely you have isolated recurrent sleep paralysis. Often there is no need to treat this condition.
Check with your doctor if you have any of these concerns:
- You feel anxious about your symptoms
- Your symptoms leave you very tired during the day
- Your symptoms keep you up during the night
Your doctor may want to gather more information about your sleep health by doing any of the following:
- Ask you to describe your symptoms and keep a sleep diary for a few weeks
- Discuss your health history, including any known sleep disorders or any family history of sleep disorders
- Refer you to a sleep specialist for further evaluation
- Conduct overnight sleep studies or daytime nap studies to make sure you do not have another sleep disorder
What Can I Do About Sleep Paralysis?
There’s no need to fear nighttime demons or alien abductors. If you have occasional sleep paralysis, you can take steps at home to control this disorder. Start by making sure you get enough sleep. Do what you can to relieve stress in your life — especially just before bedtime. Try new sleeping positions if you sleep on your back. And be sure to see your doctor if sleep paralysis routinely prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Are there treatments for sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis, like most sleep disorders, tends to improve over time. Therefore most people need no treatment for sleep paralysis. However, it could help the process though, by improving sleeping habits, sticking to a regular sleep pattern in a comfortable environment. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help, as well as avoiding smoking, caffeine and big meals before bed.
In summary, these treatments may include the following:
- Improving sleep habits — such as making sure you get up to eight hours of sleep each night
- Using antidepressant medication if it is prescribed to help regulate sleep cycles
- Treating any mental health problems that may contribute to sleep paralysis
- Treating any other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy or leg cramps
When should I consult A Doctor About My Sleep Paralysis?
For most people, sleep paralysis will be a one time occurrence and as it is not harmful, there is usually no need to consult a doctor. If, however, you are experiencing sleep paralysis on a regular basis or feel that your symptoms could resemble narcolepsy, get in touch with your Doctor.