Sleep paralysis does occur with other types of sleep disorder like narcolepsy and may occur independently as an isolated sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis or REM Atonia is the temporary inability to move or speak when you are waking-up and or falling asleep. It is characterized by complete physical paralysis, an inability to move the body despite being awake.
This occurs within and as a transition in the context of waking and sleeping. Sleep paralysis is not harmful and does not last longer than split seconds or few minutes though it may be frightening to some people.
Some people do compare it with an open vision when they are quite aware that they are awake and yet seeing things that are not physical, the muscle paralysis, however, prevent them from taking action based on their dream, vision or nightmares.
In a normal sleep, your brain communicates with your body system particularly the muscles to relax and lay still, similarly in sleep paralysis, the brain communicates with the body muscles to relax and be motionless but you are awake in this case.
Description and Occurrence
Research has revealed that the occurrence of sleep paralysis varies, from once or twice in a lifetime to more regular intervals on a monthly basis. There is more observation of occurrence with teenagers and young adults.
The American Academy of sleep enthused that sleep paralysis is a common sleep problem that affects 5 to 40 per cent o the population. Most patients (about 76%) who experience these phenomena report fear, and about 15% report some degree of distress.
Most sufferers have a sense of being trapped inside their bodies, unable to speak or move, but able to think. Some have also had an impression of a ‘strange presence,’ or a supernatural element, which likely contributes to the distress during, and even after, the episode.
After the occurrence, (either after falling asleep for a time period or without getting additional sleep), the affected individual can recall and vividly describe the sense of being physically paralyzed.
I have personally experienced sleep paralysis on many occasions, in some cases, I wanted to take action but physically unable to react or push-off the opposing situation just like in a wrestling match.
In some cases, I became so fearful and wanted to speak out but to no avail while in other cases towards the end of the paralysis when my muscle re-gained power, I actually reached out to hold and hit the imaginary image with a deadly knock-out jab, but alas! it was a dream, a hallucination, the target was actually invisible.
Causes of sleep paralysis
Many instances of sleep paralysis occur because of difficulty in transitioning between different sleep stages, particularly moving in and out of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
When you are asleep, your body mechanism sends signals or hormones that relax or that demobilized the motor that drives your muscles activities, however, when this signal or hormones persist after you have woken up, then it becomes sleep paralysis.
If it happens that the muscles are not paralyzed, there is a high possibility of you acting out your dream aggressively or violently.
The following factors increase the risk of the occurrence of sleep paralysis:
increased level of stress
sleep deprivation – when you don’t get enough sleep.
age – it is more common in teenagers and young adults.
hallucinogenic drugs – when you are currently using or on the path of withdrawal from these substances.
sleep disorder – if you have had some sleep disorder especially narcolepsy, insomnia, shift work sleep disorder.
irregular sleeping patterns – people with irregular schedules or who work shifts and/or sleep lying on their back are more prone to sleep paralysis.
Mental health challenges– such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder (these individuals are more likely to experience sleep paralysis).
Heredity factor – if it runs in the family, you may be more likely to have sleep paralysis.
Treatment of sleep paralysis
It is almost impossible to determine when a person will experience sleep paralysis due to the varying nature of the root causes.
However, because it is benign and often gets better over time most physicians do not initially recommend treatment for mild and moderate cases aside than that for the sufferer to improve on their lifestyle/sleeping habits.
When your sleep paralysis starts to impinge on preexisting depression, anxiety, or sleep disorders, and exacerbating to fear of sleep or difficulty in falling asleep, then treatment may be required.
Your treatment begins with you identifying or understanding the root causes during your repeated episodes;
- Improving sleep hygiene and minimizing sleep deprivation
- Get regular exercise but not too close to bedtime (four hours away).
- most adults require six to eight hours of good quality sleep at night.
- Sleep on your side and not on your back
- Choose a regular bed-time.
Sleep in a good ambient room, comfortable, quiet, dark etc.
Avoid late and heavy meals, caffeine, drugs and alcohol close to bedtime.
When to see your doctor?
Mild and moderate cases of sleep paralysis may not require the attention of your GP but when the situation is exacerbating and you are seeing some signs below, you need to talk to your doctor;
If you are having a repeated episode of sleep paralysis
If you are afraid, anxious and struggling to get enough sleep
When you feel very sleepy during the day or you fall asleep uncontrollably and also lose muscle control