Why do you have sleep paralysis?
Imagine this scene, you open your eyes in the middle of the night. You seem to be awake but you can’t move even a finger. You feel a terrifying tightness in your chest. But you can do nothing to help yourself. It’s hard to draw breath and then you start to hear voices and see dark shadows looming over you.No that’s not the plot of the new horror blockbuster that’s sleep paralysis. A phenomenon that is not as common as you think.
Even if you have never heard about the sleep paralysis. The chances are high that you’ve experienced or will experience once in your life. Dr Clete Kishida medical director of the Stanford sleep medicine centre in redwood city California says that about 40% of the population have experienced a minimum of one case of sleep paralysis.
According to another research study conducted in 2011, 8% of people suffer from sleep paralysis regularly. Sleep paralysis doesn’t pose a serious risk to your health but can be harmful for your mental health.
This experience can truly be terrifying unless you know what it is. I do.
Why does sleep paralysis occur?
People have known about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis for many centuries. There has been a wide variety of explanations. Starting from supernatural powers that took people under their control to alien abduction.
Nowadays, however, the enigma of sleep paralysis doesn’t seem such a mystery. Specialists have figured out what this condition is, how to deal with and what triggers the problem?
It turns out, that sleep paralysis occurs when your body and brain don’t get into sync when you sleep. during the proper night sleep, your brain sends a message to your nervous system that its time to relax your muscles. This is necessary so you don’t happen to move around a whole lot while you’re sleeping.
This may potentially happen during the rapid eye movement or REM sleep cycle When your brain is ready to wake up. Usually when you arent in the phase of REM sleep it gives an order to finish this self-induced paralysis.
People who experience sleep-wake up when they are still caught in the REM sleep cycle. This is the reason why they are awake and mostly conscious but unable to move or speak their muscles haven’t received that important signal from the brain that can let them move freely.
There are two types of sleep paralysis-
Isolated sleep paralysis-
This can happen to a person just once or a couple in whole their lifespan and lasts for several minutes. This isn’t long.
But if you experience this phenomenon for the first time. It can scare the hell out of you senseless.
People describing their experience with sleep paralysis say that horror movies do nothing for them anymore. Because they have seen the most terrifying scene imaginable.
But even that is nothing compared to the second type of sleep paralysis.
Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis-
It’s a chronic condition. People suffer from it throughout there life. Such sleep paralysis can last for more than an hour.
What’s so scary about this phenomenon?
You don’t have control over your body.
Some people, like me who experience sleep paralysis on a regular basis, describe it as waking up dead. Your mind is awake but doesn’t have control over your body. Thus, you feel as if you are in a trap. You cant move a finger. Isn’t that a spooky sensation.
On the other hand in some rare cases, people reported being able to move their facial muscles or even wiggle their toes. This helped them to wake up faster.
In most cases though, there is nothing that you can do, except, wait it out.
You feel like you can’t breathe.
In the past, people believed that demons and other supernatural beings caused sleep paralysis. By sitting on a person’s chests while they were asleep.
People with sleep paralysis indeed have difficulties with their breathing, but there is a perfectly scientific explanation for this sensation.
In this situation, you wake up at the wrong time. This means that your period of REM sleep isn’t over yet as a result your muscles are still asleep. And this includes your chest muscles. The only exception is your diaphragm. This is why people have shortness of breath or think that something heavy is resting on their chest.
You cant speak.
Another thing about sleep paralysis is the inability to call for help. This also makes sense, the muscles that control your mouth also fails to function. That’s why when you try to call out for help you can’t utter a single word.
This is accompanied by the feeling o getting choked because not enough air is getting through your lungs.
Hallucinations can be spine chilling
This is the worst part of a sleep paralysis session.
You are stuck on the border of sleeping and being awake. Your eyes are open, your mind is alert but your body is still unconscious. And if you think that your nightmares are quite nightmarish, imagine having one when your eyes aren’t closed. That’s what happens to 25% of people who experience sleep paralysis.
But these hallucinations are of different kinds. You might see horror movie creature bending over your motionless frame. Just like I saw Annabelle doll sitting on the corner of my bed staring and laughing at me. I was just waiting for my hands to move, then I would have seen whose laughing you dumb little piece of crap. Anyway, you might hear strange sounds or laboured breathing behind your back. To your dismay, you can’t even turn your head to check it out.
On top of that, you might feel something touching your skin, but again you are unable to deal with this.
However, in most of the cases, patients facing sleep paralysis just feel a strange alien presence in the room.
Despite these scary symptoms, scientists recently discovered that 20% of those who regularly experience sleep paralysis have learned to enjoy it.
As shocking as it may sound, they simply just let them relax and watch it happen. That’s what we call fortitude.
What can trigger sleep paralysis?
First and foremost, its sleep deprivation. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can cause serious sleep disruptions.
- The same goes for altered patterns of sleep. That’s why you are at a higher risk if you frequently work night shifts.
- If your life is full of chronic stress, don’t be shock if you aren’t able to move for a couple of minutes one morning.
- Eating heavy, fatty, or sugary meals before going to bed can also trigger sleep paralysis.
- Sometimes this condition can be caused by something as simple as sleeping on your back.
- People with such psychological conditions as bipolar disorder can have problems with sleep paralysis.
- Even leg cramps that occur at night can worsen the situation.
- Sleep paralysis is also likely to happen to someone who uses drugs.
- Some medications can also result in this problem as well. So if you take any, ask your doctor about such side-effects.
Which groups of people are at higher risk of experiencing sleep paralysis?
- Children and adults from 12 to 25 years old.
- People with mental disorders such as PTSD depression or anxiety are at higher risk.
Dr Shelby Harris, director of the behavioural sleep medicine program at the sleep/wake disorder centre at the Montefiore medical centre has also drawn the connection between narcolepsy and sleep paralysis.
Narcolepsy is a medical condition where people fall asleep every time they are in a relaxing atmosphere. such patients have an absent or damaged brain chemical called hypocretin. This chemical helps your body stay alert and regulates its sleep-wake cycles. That’s why people with narcolepsy have a disrupted sleeping pattern which often leads to sleep paralysis.
Are there natural ways to keep it away?
While doctors don’t have an answer for how to make sure you don’t experience sleep paralysis. There are some natural ways to deal with this problem.
- First of all, get enough sleep. And by enough, I mean no less than 7 to 8 hours a day.try to go to bed at approximately the same time every night.
- Sleep on your side or your belly.
- Try not to have big meals in the evening
- Avoid heavy fats and proteins, sugar caffeine and alcohol.
- Try chamomile tea, it has an amazing relaxing effect.
- Meditation has a similar calming effect. Meditation for even five minutes can help you wind down and reduce anxiety which can cause nightmares. suggested by a friend and worked to an extent for me.
- If you experience a lot of stress or have any mental issue visit a therapist. they might prescribe medication to help you deal with your problems.
- don’t use any gadgets at least an hour before going to bed and don’t watch scary videos when getting ready to sleep. Or either get ready to say Hi to them.
Well, there you have it, the symptoms, causes, & treatments for sleep paralysis. On a personal note, just having a scientific explanation of the disorder I was experiencing really helped alleviate my fears for when I would experience episodes. The knowledge that although the events were indeed terrifying, knowing that they were relatively harmless helped me get through later episodes. I also noticed that since I started keeping a regular sleep schedule, I haven’t had an episode in a very long time.