Sleep Paralysis: Causes and Treatment

Experienced at the point of falling asleep or waking up, sleep paralysis creates a state of temporary paralysis, where the sufferer cannot move or talk for a period ranging from a few seconds to several minutes.

While it may not be harmful, sleep paralysis can certainly be terrifying. Some sufferers feel a tightening of their chest or a choking feeling, while others hallucinate that there are people in the room watching them, or that there are demons lurking in the shadows.

If you suffer from sleep paralysis, your desire to exorcise those sleep paralysis demons is completely understandable. But to do that, you need to understand what sleep paralysis is, what are the causes of sleep paralysis, and what sleep paralysis treatment is available.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis can either be hypnagogic or hypnopompic*. Hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis occurs when you are falling asleep. As you fall asleep, your body slowly relaxes. Usually, your brain becomes less aware, so you don’t notice your body going into this state. But, if you remain aware during this process, you may find you are unable to move or speak.

Hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis, on the other hand, occurs on waking. As you sleep, you alternate between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep in cycles, with one cycle lasting about 90 minutes. Occurring first, NREM relaxes and restores the body, then, during the REM state, your eyes move quickly and dreams occur.

As your body is still fully relaxed during this REM state, if you wake – as you do when experiencing sleep paralysis – you may be unable to move or talk. Sleep paralysis symptoms can include finding it difficult to take a deep breath, being unable to open your eyes, and hallucinating there is someone or something in the room with you wishing to cause you harm.

After sleep paralysis has passed, you should be able to move and speak as normal, but the experience may leave you anxious, and unwilling or unable to go back to sleep.

What causes sleep paralysis?

It is unknown how many people suffer from sleep paralysis, however, estimates vary from 5% to 40% of the population**. It can affect both men and women of any age, but it is typically first experienced during adolescence.

While it is unknown what causes sleep paralysis, it has been associated with the following:

Sleep paralysis

Not getting enough sleep, where you suffer from either insomnia or sleep deprivation.
• Having an irregular sleep pattern, perhaps caused by jet lag or shift work.
• Having a sleep disorder, such as narcolepsy, which is a condition that causes sufferers to have no control over falling asleep, where they suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times.
• Sleeping on your back.
• Having a family history of sleep paralysis.
• Suffering from mental conditions, such as anxiety, stress or bipolar disorder.
• Substance abuse.
• Using certain medications, such as those used to treat ADHD.***

How do you treat sleep paralysis?

Just as there are numerous possible sleep paralysis causes, there are also plenty of suggested sleep paralysis treatments. Most treatment suggestions revolve around good sleep hygiene, and can include:

  • Getting sufficient sleep. Most adults require six to eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Creating a sleep routine. Try to go to sleep around the same time each night, and waking up at the same time each morning.
  • Creating a good sleep environment. Ideally, your bedroom should be comfortable, dark, quiet and cooler rather than hotter.
  • Avoiding large meals before bed. Also avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeine.
  • Getting regular exercise. Vigorous exercise should be avoided four hours before bed.

If sleep paralysis means you have trouble sleeping, or it is giving you anxiety, you should seek help from your doctor or a sleep specialist.

Sources
* https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis#2
** http://www.sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders-by-category/parasomnias/sleep-paralysis/symptoms-risk-factors
*** https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sleep-paralysis/ & https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis#2