Sleep paralysis is a sleep irregularity that refers to a state of being aware of your surroundings, but unable to move or talk. Some people cannot even move their eyes when they experience it. It occurs for a couple of seconds or minutes, and then goes away on its own, without any need for intervention.
Most cultures associate sleep paralysis with evil or spiritual attacks. This is mainly because most people who go through it, often claim to have a feeling of someone or something else in the room; often something terrifying. Others claim to feel as if they are being choked and having troubles breathing. During sleep paralysis, it is not uncommon for you to experience some hallucinations, which could explain the mythical beliefs of spiritual encounters behind this phenomenon.
Sleep paralysis is not harmful, nor an indication of an underlying condition. It should however not be confused with sleeping disorders, such as narcolepsy, a condition in which sleep overcomes you, as a result of the brain’s inability to regulate sleep.
This phenomenon often occurs either just before you fall asleep, or at the moment when you’re waking up. If it occurs when you’re about to fall asleep, it’s referred to as hypnagogic sleep paralysis. When it occurs as you’re waking up, it’s referred to as postdormital or hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
During deep sleep, you experience what is called REM, or rapid eye movement. REM is a stage of sleep where dreams often occur, and the brain at this point is usually very active. So, it’s a stage when you experience deep sleep. During REM, the only parts of the body that move are your muscles responsible for breathing, and the eyes. Everything else is not able to move. Some speculate that perhaps the reason the rest of the body is not able to move is so as to protect you from acting out your dreams physically, and potentially hurting yourself in your sleep. When REM occurs while you’re awake, that’s when you experience sleep paralysis.
There is no conclusive evidence to show why REM sometimes occurs when we’re awake. But, experts believe it could occur as a result of:
- Insomnia or sleep deprivation
- History of sleep paralysis in the family
- Enduring, irregular sleeping patterns, due to work or other reasons. People in the medical and airline industry often experience this type of sleep irregularity.
- Sleeping while on your back
There is no particular treatment for sleep paralysis. Treatments often involve making certain lifestyle changes, so as to improve the sleeping patterns and sleeping environment.
- To avoid this type of sleep irregularity, try to get about eight hours of quality sleep. If you can’t manage eight, then not less than six.
- Develop a pattern of going to sleep and waking up at the same time.
- Create a conducive environment for quality sleep. Your bedroom should be quiet, dark, neither too warm nor too cold, and without interruptions from electronics and other gadgets.
- Do not eat just before bedtime or take stimulants such as coffee, tea or alcohol.
Regular exercise can also help you get good quality sleep. However, if you’ll exercise in the evening, make sure you exercise at least four hours before going to bed.