If you have ever woken up unable to move any body part, you have experienced sleep paralysis, which is a completely conscious condition, which occurs when you pass between stages of wakefulness and sleep, or the “hypnagogic” and “hypnopompic” stage.
The first stage occurs before falling asleep, and the other happens as soon as you wake from the REM phase.
It is strange and extremely frightening, and might even cause a panic attack, as you cannot control your own body.
However, you should know that it is a common phenomenon, and cannot cause any physical damage to the body.
When we fall asleep, our body relaxes and the mind becomes less aware, while in the hypnagogic sleep paralysis, the mind remains aware, but the body is in an involuntary relaxation state, and we cannot move.
During REM sleep, on the other hand, the muscles are paralyzed, but the brain wakes when the person experiences hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
Some people never experience this, but there are also others which suffer from sleep paralysis episodes often. Researchers at Penn State University have found that around 8 percent of the population frequently experiences sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is also common in people suffering from some sleep issues, like sleep apnea, in the case of mental disorders, like depression and anxiety, or due to the use of some medications.
According to WebMD, these are the risk factors:
- Lack of sleep
- Substance abuse
- Sleep issues such as nighttime leg cramps or narcolepsy
- Mental conditions, like bipolar disorder or stress
- Frequent changes in sleep schedule
- Sleeping on the back
- Certain medications, such as the ones used for ADHD
Sleep paralysis is characterized by an inability to speak or move for several seconds or minutes, and it is not treated with medications. Yet, when doctors diagnose some other underlying condition that causes it, they prescribe some of the following treatments:
- Treatment of any underlying sleep disorders
- Referral to a sleep specialist
- Implementation of a sleeping schedule
- Prescription for sleeping aids
- Referral to a mental health professional
- Prescription for an anti-depressant
You can prevent this disorder by managing stress and improving your sleep.
Yet, note that if you rarely experience sleep paralysis, you should not seek professional help, but try to improve your sleeping habits instead.
Additionally, limit the intake of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and avoid using electronic devices at bedtime. Moreover, remember that you need to remain calm if you experience a sleep paralysis, as it is nothing serious or terrifying, and it will be over very soon.
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