I have yet to come across a person who does not enjoy sleep. Other than being utterly relaxing, it is scientifically proven that the human body needs a solid 8 hours of snooze time to function optimally. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, inability to focus and concentrate, exhaustion and so many other issues. We have all been sleep deprived at some point in our lives, but what if you had a sleeping disorder that kept you from sleeping? Not insomnia, rather one that feels like you have woken up in a nightmare, but you can’t move or make a sound. It’s called Sleep Paralysis and for sufferers, it’s absolutely terrifying!
How does Sleep Paralysis happen?
It occurs when a person is at the stage of REM sleep- in the process of falling asleep or waking up. In this phase there is rapid eye movement and vivid dreams occur. When a person is sleeping, the brain switches off the muscles in the bod to stop them from acting out and hurting themselves during sleep. Sleep paralysis occurs when a person wakes up before the brain has finished REM sleep and the body remains in a state paralysis, unable to move as the muscles are still turned off. An episode can last a from few seconds to a few minutes.
Waking up completely paralyzed sounds terrifying, however let’s go through the details to understand this disorder a little better.
During a typical episode a person can usually breathe normally; however, some people have experienced difficulties in breathing and gasping for air when they wake. The person is usually alert and aware of their surroundings and but may not be able to open their eyes, move or speak as long as the episode lasts. The episode usually ends on its own, but if the person makes a serious effort to move or is woken up, it may result in an early break from the paralysis state. As sleep paralysis is between a state of sleep and awake, sometimes a person can have their eyes open during the episode, which leads to scary hallucinations, commonly described as a demon attack.
Sleep Paralysis doesn’t discriminate, it can start from early teens and last through to old age. It can be a recurring event ranging from the odd episode every few months to many episodes in a single night. Although it is not considered a serious medical condition, suffers have experience extreme bouts of anxiety and fear, terrified that they will relapse into another episode if they fall asleep again. This leads to issues of insomnia, Circadian rhythm disorders (feeling of jet-lag), snoring, sleep apnea and other serious sleeping disorders.
Why does Sleep Paralysis happen on your Back?
Sleep paralysis maybe linked to sleep apnea in some individuals. Sleep apnea occurs when a person is sleeping on their back and their throat muscles overly relax and block the passageway of air used for breathing. If a person is suffering from sleep apnea and experiences sleep paralysis at the same time, they will feel like they are unable to breathe during the episode. Sleep apnea sufferers are advised to sleep on their side and to ensure the air pipe has no blockages.
Types of Sleep Paralysis
We covered how people can hallucinate during an episode but the intensity and experience may differ for every individual. Generally, there are 3 types of sleep paralysis experiences:
Sleep Paralysis Demon Attack
Some people claim to sense another entity that is not physically present, sometimes even evil, while others claim to have heard or even seen an intruder present. According to research, it has been found that during sleep paralysis, our brain’s fear center goes into overdrive and becomes hyper alert to threats and dangers. This paranoia makes one vividly imagine these scary visions that feel real.
Also called the ‘Old Hag attack’ and is a severe form of sleep paralysis. During this type of sleep paralysis, the subject may experience chest pressure or difficulty in breathing, and in extreme cases suffocation. Some people have also reported to experience physical pain although it may only be a perception of pain. This form of sleep paralysis can trigger a panic attack as some people believe that they are actually about to die.
Unusual Bodily Experiences
This hallucination usually feels like you are entering another dimension or having an out-of-body experience. People have reported a sense of flying or floating in space, motions like falling, accelerating, spinning and more. Other than the flying experience, people are also known to feel a sense of contentment or emotional bliss.
People have said they have watched themselves sleep and also felt a sense of lightheaded or dizziness when they woke up. Some subjects have also reported that the whole experience is a little forceful and may feel like they are being violently removed from their bodies.
How not to have Sleep Paralysis?
There is no such treatment for sleep paralysis but you can treat the causes that lead to this condition, such as sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea. You may not need to run to a doctor after one episode, however if it becomes reoccurring and starts to affect your sleep, then it’s wise to get medical advice.
Preventing sleep paralysis comes down to having good sleep hygiene. A common cause of sleep paralysis is lack of sleep, stress and sleeping on your back. Prevention is key. So, three hours before bed, keep the drugs, alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and bright screens away and try getting 8 hours of sleep per night. If it is ineffective, then you may want to consult a sleep specialist to try other courses of treatments.