You wake up in the middle of the night. You try to move, but your body doesn’t respond. You think it’s a dream, but obviously, you’re aware. You try to call for help but can’t make a sound. So you lie in your bed, a stranger in your own body.
Congratulations, you have met sleep paralysis. Despite being a phenomenon that most people have never heard of, up to 7.6% of people suffer from this condition at least once in their lives, even if we cannot remember it later.
We have covered some facts about this mysterious disorder and want to share them with you.
What sleep paralysis is
Sleep paralysis is a state in which a person is conscious but unable to move or speak. It usually occurs during one of 2 transitions: when you are falling asleep or when you wake up. A person experiences a feeling of paralysis and a feeling of heaviness as if someone or something very heavy is sitting on top of them. It is often accompanied by hallucinations, which makes the situation that much more frightening.
You lose control over your body.
No matter how hard you try, if you have sleep paralysis, there is nothing you can do to wake up your body. Some people may wiggle their fingers or toes, eventually causing them to wake up.
People often describe this as an “out-of-body experience”. Sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes.
You experience nightmares and hallucinations.
The main symptoms of sleep paralysis include hallucinations and nightmares. However, these are very different from the dreams you see when you sleep. In fact, these “hallucinations” occur when your mind is alert and you feel awake. This makes the situation twice as disturbing.
While paralyzed, people tend to see shadowy figures and hear frightening noises. Sometimes it aligns with the sensation of being dragged out of bed, flying, or vibrations running through the body.
Desperation also comes into play and we start to lose control and panic. It’s no wonder we can suffer from an added sense of anxiety when we can’t scream or move.
Why it happens
When we sleep, our body drifts in and out of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Our brain sends an order to our muscles to relax and we enter a state of atony. This state is necessary to restrict our physical movements so that we do not act out our dreams.
Well, sleep paralysis occurs when our body has trouble making this transition. We are awake, but our muscles cannot come out of sleep.
There are a few possible explanations for the hallucinations. One is that the part of our brain responsible for fear and emotion is very active in REM. It is working, while nothing around us suggests danger. So our brain compensates for this and creates scary shadows and sounds.
Factors that can lead to sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is a completely natural phenomenon. It can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or health. But scientists have identified some circumstances that are associated with an increased risk of sleep paralysis. Among them are:
Poor sleep. This includes unusual sleep patterns as well as various sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep deprivation. It is also noted that sleep paralysis is common in shift workers.
Sleeping in a supine position. Surprisingly, sleeping on your back was found to be a major factor in sleep paralysis. This makes the sleeper more vulnerable due to increased pressure in the lungs and airways.
Genetics. Yes, it is family. Sleep paralysis is hereditary.
Mental issues. The connection between sleep paralysis and mental health has yet to be explored, but statistics show that people with trauma, PTSD, and various anxieties tend to have sleep paralysis.
How to deal with it
There is no denying that sleep paralysis is an unpleasant and disturbing experience, but it does not carry any real danger as it does not cause any harm to the physical body. And, as unpleasant as it sounds, there is no treatment for now. Doctors generally recommend adopting healthier sleep habits. For example:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- No caffeine or substances before bed.
- Avoid sleeping on your back or stomach.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom.
But the most important thing is to stay calm and let the episode finish on its own. Being calm and not panicking is the key!
What is your way of dealing with bad sleep? If you have ever experienced a sleep disorder, please share your story with us!