What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis can be a terrifying experience. This form of parasomnia causes the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. The person essentially loses the ability to move his or her muscles during an episode. Dr. Nassar, a sleep specialist in Jacksonville, can help determine if you’re experiencing sleep paralysis and what may be causing it.

Understanding What Causes Sleep Paralysis

Why does sleep paralysis occur? A disruption in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is one explanation. Normally, in REM sleep you enter total muscle atonia. This muscle atonia is what prevents you from acting out your dreams. Sleep paralysis is experienced when you’re still awake and atonia occurs. Research has shown that two brain chemicals, glycine and GABA, are responsible for this paralysis.

Sleep paralysis can occur at two times. If it occurs when a person is falling asleep, he or she will remain alert when entering REM. This is called pre-dormital or hypnagogic sleep paralysis. If it occurs while a person is waking up, he or she becomes alert before REM is complete. This is called post-dormital or hypnopompic paralysis.

Two of the major causes of sleep paralysis are genetics and narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis is considered isolated when no further symptoms of narcolepsy are present. Sleep paralysis has additionally been linked to obstructive sleep apnea, irregular sleep patterns, migraines and anxiety disorders. Sleeping flat on one’s back may also increase the likelihood of experiencing this phenomenon. A sleep specialist in Jacksonville should be seen for proper diagnosis and treatment of sleep paralysis.

Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis

Feeling mentally aware before your body is awake can be a frightening experience. Many people also experience hallucinations and breathlessness, escalating these feelings. Some of the symptoms of sleep paralysis include:

  • Being unable to move when falling asleep or waking, which may last seconds or a few minutes.
  • Being consciously awake.
  • Inability to speak during an episode.
  • Having frightening sensations or hallucinations.
  • Having a feeling of pressure on your chest.
  • Sweating.
  • Having a sense of doom or impending death.
  • Experiencing headaches and muscle pain.
  • Feeling paranoid.

When to See a Sleep Specialist in Jacksonville

Sleep paralysis can cause feelings of anxiety and fear. It may only happen once in your life, or it may happen multiple times. If your symptoms are concerning you and interfering with your quality of life, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

A sleep specialist can help address frequent sleep paralysis, anxiety about falling asleep, difficulty falling asleep or daytime sleepiness resulting from these episodes. He can also suggest ways to improve the quality of your sleep. These tips include keeping a consistent bedtime, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and reducing light exposure in the evening. Improving your sleep may help to improve symptoms and lessen the frequency of sleep paralysis episodes.

For help with sleep paralysis or other sleep disorders, visit Dr. Nassar of Jacksonville Sleep Center. Dr. Nassar is Jacksonville’s only full-time sleep medicine physician. Call (904) 854-6899 to schedule an appointment.