Have you ever been caught in a grey zone, where your mind is wide awake, but your body is still fast asleep? Do you find yourself in a nightmarish reality where there’s no way out? Have you felt like you want to scream for help in your sleep but you can’t make a sound? Welcome to the reality of sleep paralysis where your night terrors get manifested!
In this article, we will answer the most common questions people ask about sleep paralysis and share with you some helpful tips on what you can do to avoid such a terrifying experience. Read on!
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a temporary sleep anomaly, when a person, while half-asleep, realizes that he can not move or make sounds, which provokes a panic attack.
It occurs when you pass between stages of wakefulness and sleep. It is during these transitions, that you may feel unable to move or speak. This state can last for a few seconds up to a few minutes.
During this state, you may also feel pressure or a sense of choking.
Many people have experienced this phenomenon at least once.
Why Do I Have Sleep Paralysis?
Some researchers are inclined to believe that the occurrence of sleep paralysis may be associated with the REM sleep phase when the human brain has increased activity. You can recognize it by the rapid movement of the eyeballs under the eyelids. In this phase, we dream.
During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your body is almost paralyzed: only vital organs work. Muscle tone is reduced by signals sent from the brain by certain neurotransmitters (gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine).
The REM sleep phase usually lasts from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
You go through the REM sleep phase when you are falling asleep, waking up, and during sleep. At this stage, your brain is in an active state and you can see dreams or various kinds of hallucinations.
The most terrifying thing about sleep paralysis is that it’s usually accompanied by vivid nightmares, and sometimes hallucinations (such as attacks of demonic creatures). This leads to very painful experiences and makes you feel completely powerless and trapped.
During the REM sleep phase, there is no synchronization between changes in the brain and a decrease in muscle tone, which can provoke sleep paralysis.
But why is there such a mismatch in the work of the brain and muscles? Some researchers suggest that genetics is to blame. Others suggest looking for reasons in our daily routine.
Here are the most common causes of sleep paralysis.
#1: Sleep position
If you often sleep on your back, you may be at increased risk. Experimentally proven that sleeping on your back increases the likelihood of sleep paralysis. 50% of cases of sleep paralysis occur in this position.
#2: Brain waves
During episodes of sleep paralysis, there is a disproportionate amount of alpha waves with intermittent bursts of beta waves, especially in cases where people have reported visual hallucinations.
The use of various drugs, whether pharmaceutical, over-the-counter, or illegal, can contribute to the development of sleep paralysis. Even alcohol is considered a potential pathogen, as it can disrupt various stages of sleep.
#4: Violation of neurotransmission
Disturbed levels of neurotransmitters are thought to increase your susceptibility to sleep paralysis. In particular, GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter) and glycine may be the cause.
#5: Mental illness
Those who suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia may be more likely to have sleep paralysis. These conditions are characterized by sleep disorders, fluctuations in neurotransmitters, and are often treated with strong psychiatric medications that can easily increase the likelihood of this phenomenon.
#6: Chaotic sleep schedule, its disorders and deprivation
If you work shifts or don’t have strict sleep and wake times, you may be at an increased risk of sleep paralysis. This disrupts the circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. It leads to changes in the concentration of neurotransmitters, brain wave activity, regional blood flow, etc. All these changes increase the risk.
These 6 factors are the most common causes of sleep paralysis. However, there are also other reasons that you may need to consider, such as:
- Genetic predisposition;
- Leg cramps;
- Neurodegenerative diseases (dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s);
- Neurological disorders (migraines and epilepsy);
- Mental trauma.
What Are The Symptoms Of Sleep Paralysis?
The main symptom associated with sleep paralysis is the inability to move. If you found yourself completely motionless in your sleep, you are experiencing sleep paralysis.
#2: Inability to speak
One of the most noticeable and frustrating symptoms is the inability to speak or even produce any sounds. Imagine that you are stuck in a dream or dream-like state, but you are still conscious and feeling that a demon is about to attack you. Instead of screaming for help, you can’t even move your lips and feel tortured.
#3: Semi-conscious state
Some people remain fully conscious during sleep paralysis experience and can recall the entire episode. Most people are semi-conscious, which means that they have a certain degree of awareness or “flashes” of consciousness.
#4: Chest pressure
Some people feel a strong pressure on the chest when experiencing this phenomenon. Such pressure may feel as if a pile of cargo is piled on the chest, or as if a demonic entity is pressing on the chest. This pressure may occur due to breathing difficulty during the paralysis.
#5: Shortness of breath
You may also have difficulty breathing when having sleep paralysis. It can be caused by the specific position in which you fell asleep, pressure on your chest, or as a result of panic.
Sleep paralysis often leads to a panic attack. When you find yourself helpless in your dream where you can neither move nor cry for help, you feel panicked and terrified.
This is the most common symptom. You are aware of what is happening, but there is nothing you can do about it. If in addition, you have a nightmare or hallucinations, then everything only gets worse. Which again leads to panic.
Many people experience auditory hallucinations (hearing voices), visual hallucinations (seeing weird things, demonic beings, etc.), and sometimes tactile hallucinations (feeling things) that are not based on reality. In rare cases, a person may even report smelling something that is not based on reality (olfactory hallucinations). Common hallucinations in cases of sleep paralysis include animals, buzzing, demons, opening doors, footsteps, pressure, and whispers.
#9: Unusual sensations
Most unusual sensations that you may have during sleep paralysis experience are considered a byproduct of REM sleep. These unusual sensations are perceived by the consciousness as “real”, although, in fact, they are the result of chaotic brain activity. Unusual sensations may include feeling as if you are moving, swimming, or pushing; strange smells or sights; feeling stuck in a dream; etc.
How To Avoid Sleep Paralysis?
If you have ever had a terrifying sleep paralysis you definitely don’t want to experience it ever again. So, what can we do to avoid it? Here are some helpful tips!
#1: Exclude medical factors
Since the exact causes of sleep paralysis remain unknown, it is important to exclude all possible diseases that may contribute to it. These include checking for neurological conditions, working with a sleep specialist (to determine if you have a sleep disorder), checking for hormones, vitamin/micronutrient deficiencies, and others.
In addition to excluding medical indications, it may be important to exclude exposure to toxins. Regular detox cleanse can help you to minimize unpleasant sleep experiences.
If you have medical problems or have been exposed to environmental toxins, you will need to receive appropriate treatment. In many cases, treating the underlying condition will improve sleep quality.
#2: Create a proper sleep routine
If you are still experiencing sleep paralysis after you have ruled out or cured various medical problems, the next step is to adjust your sleep routine which includes:
- Going to bed at the same time every night;
- Wake up at the same time every morning;
- Get approximately the same number of hours of sleep.
#3: Minimize possible sleep disturbances
Turn off phone notifications, block out outside noises and lights, and make sure your partner doesn’t roll on you in the middle of the night. If you have pets, make sure they don’t bother you in the middle of the night. Make sure that you don’t fall asleep with the TV on and avoid anything that might interfere with your sleep.
#4: Practice digital detox before bedtime
Cell phone, computer, TV, or other electronic devices before going to bed usually disrupt the quality of sleep. Try to avoid the use of electronics for 1-3 hours before bedtime.
#5: Avoid electromagnetic radiation
If you sleep near a computer, mobile phone, or Wi-Fi router, your sleep quality will be reduced. Put your cell phone in airplane mode and turn off the Wi-Fi router before going to bed.
#6: Turn off the light
Do your best to darken the room by blocking all bright light sources. Put light-blocking curtains or blinds on the windows to prevent light from entering during sleep.
#7: Increase the amount of sleep
Sleep deprivation or restriction is a factor that can increase the likelihood of developing sleep paralysis. Despite the fact that the quality of sleep should be more important than its quantity, you should sleep enough to feel mentally and physically rested after waking up.
Most experts suggest sleeping for at least 7-9 hours. However, it all depends on individual characteristics. If you are engaged in intense physical activity during the day, you may need more than 9 hours of sleep to get quality rest. Do what you think is right, but don’t skimp on the amount of sleep — this can increase the risk of sleep paralysis.
#8 Adjust your sleeping position
As we already mentioned before, in most cases, people who experience sleep paralysis sleep on their backs. So try changing your position while you sleep. Try sleeping on your side.
If you are experiencing sleep paralysis, you may need to apply some relaxation techniques to solve this problem. Anxiety, trauma, and depression have been found to increase the risk of this phenomenon. Stress is known to interfere with sleep, and in some cases, the main cause of sleep paralysis may be over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Daily meditation practice and breathing exercises (pranayama) will help you reduce anxiety and stress. It should significantly improve the quality and quantity of your sleep and reduce the risk of experiencing sleep paralysis.
#10: Start a sleep diary
For some people, it might be helpful to consider using a sleep diary. When you wake up, write about what you experienced during sleep paralysis. Write down how long it lasted and keep track of how well you slept. Keeping a sleep diary will help you keep track of all the factors that can contribute to sleep paralysis.
The Bottom Line
Sleep paralysis can be a terrifying experience that can make you feel panic attacks. If you have occasional sleep paralysis, you can take the above steps to control this disorder. Start by making sure you get enough sleep. Do what you can to relieve stress in your life. Try new sleeping positions if you sleep on your back. And if sleep paralysis happens again, shake it off (when you fully wake up) and realize that there is nothing to be scared of!