The Idea of sleep paralysis is something that might frighten anyone. Those who have been through it know how terrifying it can be. Their mind is awake, but they can’t move their arms or legs. In many cases, they might feel that someone is in the room with them. Some people even hallucinate, imagining that they see aliens or evil spirits. Spells can last anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute, but it may feel like an eternity.
The good news is that medical science has dispensed with the myths and superstitions that surround it, arming sufferers with the knowledge and the medicines they need to control their symptoms. So let’s take a look at sleep paralysis causes and treatment options.
What is sleep paralysis?
Diagnosing the condition can be challenging at times due to the fact that many of the common symptoms are similar to those experienced with other disorders, such as narcolepsy. In general, however, sleeping paralysis is characterized by these signs:
1. It occurs either while the person is falling asleep or waking up.
2. It involves an inability to move or speak.
3. In many but not all cases, it’s accompanied by a sense of terror, a feeling that someone is in the room, or actual hallucinations where the non-existent intruder is seen for a few moments.
As much as 40% of the U.S. population has experienced sleep paralysis at some point. When it occurs only on rare occasions, it’s referred to as isolated sleep paralysis (ISP). When it happens on a regular basis, it’s called recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP). It usually occurs only once per night, though in a small number of cases, recurrent episodes happen throughout the evening.
What causes sleep paralysis?
To answer this question we have to look at what happens when people fall asleep. As they pass from wakefulness to slumber they become increasingly relaxed and less aware of their surroundings. When they finally doze off, their brains alternate between rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep cycles. REM rest is when dreams occur.
The sleeping mind doesn’t realize that the dream isn’t really happening; it thinks that the events it sees are real. So, if the dreamer is walking, running, or otherwise moving in the fantasy, then the brain sends signals to the arms and legs to move as well. Of course, this could get someone in real trouble; imagine starting to run while you’re lying in bed! Either your partner or yourself is likely to get hurt. So nature has equipped off with an “off switch” that prevents the mental commands from reaching our limbs, keeping us in place while the dream runs its course.
Normally, the brain waits until we’re fully asleep to activate this switch, and it leaves it in the “off” position until we start to wake up. However, sometimes the “off” switch is activated before we doze off. Other times it stays off as we come out of sleep. When this occurs, we have a brain that’s alert but a body that can’t move. This condition is what’s known as sleeping paralysis.
What About the Feelings of Fear and the Hallucinations?
Each of us is born with a “panic button” inside our brains. It kicks in when we’re dealing with emergencies and other stressful events, such as when we’re in a car wreck or other physical danger. It raises our pulse, releases adrenalin into our bloodstream, and brings our minds to a hyper-vigilant state.
If you’re a fan of the TV show Star Trek, think of what happens whenever someone yells “red alert!” That’s the reaction that kicks in when sleep paralysis subjects sense that they can’t move. It causes feelings of terror, and, when this is coupled with a sleeping brain being suddenly woken, the mind doesn’t have time to adjust from the world of dreams to reality, so dream-like characters and objects seem real for a few seconds.
Legends and Myths Surrounding Sleep Paralysis
The disorder has plagued people for thousands of years, well before modern times. This is why it has traditionally been associated with supernatural forces. The ancient Romans thought that mischievous spirits caused the condition. In the Middle Ages, it was attributed to demons, and even in modern times stories like these persist. In the coastal region of South Carolina, an evil entity known as the “boo hag” is said to be the culprit. Other people fear that the sleeping paralysis is caused by space aliens who abduct humans in their sleep.
These stories might be fun to tell, but when taken seriously, they cause those who suffer from the condition to experience needless worry and fear. It’s important for those who deal with sleep paralysis to know that the condition is a natural one that affects healthy, sane people all across the world. It’s not a sign of possession, alien abduction, or insanity. However, it is a reason to visit a medical professional, so a full checkup can be performed and treatment given.
What can be done for sleep paralysis?
A trip to see your doctor is important, especially if you experience any of the following:
• Anxiousness about your symptoms
• Pronounced fatigue during the day
• Lack of sleep at night
He or she will probably give you an overall physical evaluation and talk to you about your symptoms, as well as do one or more of the following:
• Ask you to keep a sleep diary
• Ask about your health history, especially any sleep disorders you or a family member might have, such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea
• Refer you to a sleep clinic or specialist
• Schedule you for a sleep study
After a diagnosis of sleep paralysis is made, one or more of the following treatment options might be chosen:
• Making sure you get enough sleep every night
• Prescribing antidepressants to maintain regular sleep cycles
• Treating any mental or physical health issues that might contribute to your sleep paralysis, such as depression or prolonged stress
What You Can Do for Yourself
Keeping a log of your sleep habits is one of the most important things you can do. You want to note what time you went to bed, if you had trouble falling asleep, any problems you might have had (such as nighttime leg cramps), and if you woke for any reason, including bathroom trips. Taking this record with you when you visit the doctor will help him or her to make an accurate diagnosis and establish an effective treatment regimen.
You can also educate yourself on the causes of sleep paralysis. You should also try to establish regular bedtime habits, getting to sleep at the same time each night. You might ask your partner or family members if they ever notice anything unusual about your sleep, such as excessive tossing and turning, loud snoring, or speaking during sleep. All of these things are important for your self-care and will help your medical professional as well.
If you know that you suffer from sleep apnea, then seeking effective treatment for it often helps to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of sleep paralysis. Avoid sleeping in the supine position (on your back), as this can cause the throat’s soft palate to collapse and hinder your breathing. Use a sleep mask or prescription mouth plate if you have one. Try to avoid stress, drinking caffeinated beverages within a few hours of your bedtime, or eating spicy or fatty foods.
It’s crucial to remember that, no matter how odd or alarming your symptoms are, they stem from physical causes that can be treated. There is no “sleep paralysis demon.” Believing that ghosts or aliens are after you will only heighten your anxiety level and make the episodes worse than they would otherwise be. A clear head grounded in facts will help you get a handle on your sleeping paralysis and reduce or even eliminate it from your life.
Your Sleep Environment Counts
While most people give it little thought, it’s a proven fact that our surroundings affect us as much when we’re sleeping as they do when we’re awake. Imagine trying to get your work done if you’re in a loud, smelly, chaotic office, or if you’re asked to do a job without the right tools.
When you’re asleep your body is doing work. It’s recharging and repairing itself. However, if you’re lying on a worn-out, uncomfortable mattress, or using a hot, unsupportive pillow, chances are you’ll wake up tired and feel groggy the rest of the day.
We can help with that. We have mattresses for every body shape, from soft to extra-firm, made from cotton, latex, bamboo, or a number of other materials, including organic and hypoallergenic ones. Each is designed and built right here in the USA and backed by our ironclad guarantee. We also offer top-quality pillows, sheets, duvets and many other fine products. So browse through our extensive selection and place your order today.