Have you ever felt that you are awake but unable to move? You were afraid but couldn’t ask for help? This condition is called sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis can occur to a person once or frequently, several times a night. The good news is that this condition is not considered a dangerous health problem.
Researchers concluded that, often, sleep paralysis is a sign of unnatural movements that occur when a person goes through the stages of sleep. Sleep paralysis has rarely been associated with serious problems or psychiatric disorders.
What is sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis refers to the situation where a person is conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person moves from one stage of sleep to wakefulness. During this transition, the sleeper may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds to a few minutes. Some people may feel a sense of choking or pressure. Sleep paralysis may be accompanied by other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
When does the paralysis occur during sleep?
Sleep paralysis does not usually occur consecutively. If it occurs when a person falls asleep, it’s called hypnagogic sleep paralysis. If it occurs when a person is awake is called hypnopompe sleep paralysis.
What happens during hypnagogic sleep paralysis?
While a person sleeps, the body relaxes slowly. It will usually be less conscious, and the change will be difficult to observe. However, if a person remains or becomes conscious when asleep, you will notice that they cannot move or talk.
What happens during hypnopompe sleep paralysis?
During sleep the body passes alternately from REM sleep to NREM (non rapid eye movement). A REM and NREM sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. During NREM sleep the body relaxes. REM sleep occurs at the end of NREM sleep. Eyes begin to move quickly and dreams appear, but the body remains very relaxed. If a person is conscious before REM sleep, they may notice that they cannot move or speak.
Who can suffer from sleep paralysis?
Four out of ten people may have sleep paralysis and first condition usually occurs during the teenage years. Sleep paralysis can be seen especially in the same family.
Additional factors that may be related to sleep paralysis include:
– sleep deprivation
– a sleep program that changes
– mental disorders such as stress or bipolar disorder
– sleep on the back
– other sleep problems such as muscle cramps or narcolepsy at night
– the use of certain drugs
– substance abuse.
Diagnosis of sleep paralysis
If you are unable to move or speak for a few seconds or minutes when you fall asleep or wake up, you probably suffer from recurrent sleep paralysis. Often there is no need to treat this condition.
However, it is advisable to consult your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
– your symptoms cause anxiety
– you feel tired during the day
– the symptoms persist during the night.
For the doctor will want to know as much information about your sleeping habits he might require or recommend any of the following things:
– to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks and describe in more detail the symptoms
– to present details of your health status, including any known sleep disorders you or your family might have
– consult a specialist for further evaluation.
How is sleep paralysis treated?
Most people do not need any treatment for sleep paralysis. Treating any underlying conditions, such as narcolepsy, can help if you are anxious or cannot sleep well.
Sleep paralysis may be a rare event or even singular. In these cases, no treatment is needed. It is enough for many people to understand what is happening and that the condition often disappears by itself.
During an episode of sleep paralysis, the affected person will be conscious but paralyzed. There are rare cases where other people have witnessed when this phenomenon occurred and intervened. The episode ends when the person will be able to move very slowly or will fall asleep.
Some people have found that a warning sound (noise that wakes them) or tactile sensation can stop the episode. Others found that sleep paralysis simply ceases abruptly. This usually lasts only a few minutes.
Sometimes the sleep paralysis sufferers may feel absolutely exhausted. The emotional experience can be overwhelming and some people will wake up gasping or crying, with rapid heart rate, embarrassed by the experience and often avoid telling others.
Others are even afraid to go back to sleep. The first step to treating sleep paralysis is to avoid potential triggers. For those who have multiple episodes of sleep paralysis and consider them intolerable medications such as selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) may be helpful.
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