You wake in the early hours of the morning. You try to check the time, but you find yourself incapable of moving a muscle. Laying motionless, your eyes dart around the room and spot a menacing, dark figure, difficult to make out against the backdrop of your unlit walls. Completely immobilized, panic begins to fill your mind as you try to move again. You want to yell for help but your voice is caught in your throat. You are paralyzed.
Though you may think this kind of thing happens only in horror movies, episodes such as the one described above happen in real life and are even somewhat common. This experience, known as sleep paralysis, is a real phenomenon. Though experiencing such episodes is physically harmless, sleep paralysis can be frightening, and this unease can interfere with getting a good night’s rest.
What is sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is the sensation of being conscious, yet unable to move. This type of paralysis is a form of parasomnia. These kinds of sleeping disorders are characterized by occurring as you drift off to sleep or as you are waking up from a state of unconsciousness. Both of these sleep stages occur during REM cycles. During REM, the mind is quite active, but your muscles remain relaxed. If you wake up before your REM cycle ends, you may find yourself unable to move or speak, yet completely conscious. This phenomenon is what has come to be known as sleep paralysis. Being unable to move is not the only characteristic of sleep paralysis. Some people also experience hallucinations during their paralysis. These usually include
- A sense of foreboding
- The feeling that someone else is in your room
- The sensation of something heavy on your chest or choking you
- An image of a monster, person, shadow, demon, or other menacing figures.
Though researchers are still unsure what causes these hallucinations, some attribute it to a harmless neurological disturbance. These episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
Symptoms of sleep paralysis
The symptoms of sleep paralysis vary from patient to patient, but commonly include;
- Chest pressure
- Feeling weightless
- Inability to move
- A sense of fear
What causes sleep paralysis?
If you have never had a sleep paralysis experience, consider yourself lucky. Surveys found that almost 40% of people have experienced sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime. Reports of sleep paralysis can be traced back to ancient times by way of myths and stories. These legends attempt to explain the occurrence in a variety of ways, ranging from tales of demonic possession to alien abduction. Thankfully, none of these stories are true. Sleep paralysis can be attributed to a variety of factors, including but not limited to;
- Mental health disorders
- Co-occurring sleeping disorders
- The use of certain medications, such as those used for ADHD
- Sleep deprivation
- Change in sleep schedule
- Heightened stress levels
How to prevent sleep paralysis
If you experience the occasional episode of sleep paralysis, there is nothing to worry about. If you have a co-occurring sleeping disorder, finding treatment for that will often prevent sleep paralysis too. The most effective way of reducing the likelihood of sleep paralysis is by getting plenty of regular, restful sleep. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night, and try to be on top of your stress management. If you are a back sleeper, try sleeping on your side. If you are troubled by frequent episodes of sleep paralysis, talk to your healthcare provider for guidance on the best way to proceed. They may recommend that you see a sleep clinic professional for further evaluation. In the meantime, use these tips to lower your chances of another encounter with sleep paralysis;
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce caffeine consumption
- Get 8 hours of sleep regularly
- Follow a bedtime routine
- Limit or cease alcohol consumption
How to wake up from sleep paralysis
Despite being such a common phenomenon, there are still no proven ways to safely wake yourself from sleep paralysis. The best advice is to remain calm and focus on breathing. In some cases, it may be easier to fall back asleep than it would be to fully wake up.
Find Better Sleep at Jacksonville Sleep Center
Not getting enough sleep? Here at the Jacksonville Sleep Center, we offer the latest technology for sleep disorder diagnosis, assessment, and treatment. If you are struggling to keep your sleep schedule under control, it may be time to seek professional treatment. Schedule an appointment today or give us a call to find out more.