What is worse than having nightmares invade your sleep? Beware of sleep paralysis! Sleep researchers define sleep paralysis as a demonstration that your body isn’t moving through the sleep stages smoothly.
Based on the results from a sleep paralysis project conducted in 2011, researchers have concluded that approximately 8% of people experience sleep paralysis. The number rises to 28% in high risk groups, which are people who have general disrupted sleep patterns and up to 34% in those who suffer from psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Sleep paralysis usually appears first in one’s teenage years, but it is often experienced in one’s 20’s and 30’s, and may continue into the later years. It may also run in the family. While sleep paralysis is not a serious health risk, it can be a scary phenomenon when one is not familiar with what it is. Psych2Go shares with you 10 terrifying facts about sleep paralysis that you should know about:
1. Sleep paralysis occurs when a person wakes up before their REM cycle is finished.
During the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of sleep, the brain has vivid dreams while one’s muscles are unable to move. This happens, so that the person won’t be able to act out dreams with their body. However, during sleep paralysis, the person wakes up before their REM cycle is even finished. This causes the individual to be awake, but their body won’t be able to move, because their muscles haven’t received the signal from their brain in order to do so.
2. During sleep paralysis, people may feel like they’re being choked or a tightness in their chest.
This is unfortunately common when you’re feeling immobilized. No matter how much you try to move, you can’t seem to get past the heavy feeling like something is weighing you down. This often causes people to feel helpless and threatened.
3. People can’t speak during sleep paralysis.
This is because your mouth also can’t move along with the rest of your body. You might try calling for help only to find that not a single word can be uttered. This is linked to feeling as though you’re being choked, too, because not enough air may be getting through to you.
4. People may hallucinate during sleep paralysis.
Hallucinations take place during the the disrupted boundary between dreaming and being awake. Therefore, when people experience sleep paralysis, their dreams may become even more vivid than usual. Before sleep paralysis was discovered by scientists, people in the past have associated their hallucinations with experiencing visits from the demon or other evil figures.
5. Sleep paralysis may be linked to narcolepsy.
According to Dr. Shelby Harris, director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, sleep paralysis is commonly experienced by people with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a condition that is characterized by one’s excessive tendency to fall asleep in relaxing environments. People who are narcoleptic have a loss or damage of the brain chemical called hypocretin. Hypocretin helps the body stay alert and regulates the sleep-wake cycles. Therefore, narcoleptic individuals often experience disruptive sleeping patterns that influences sleep paralysis to occur.
6. Sleep deprivation and an irregular sleep schedule are prone to triggering sleep paralysis.
To prevent sleep paralysis, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and drugs at least 3 hours before you go to bed. It’s also best to limit caffeine past 2 P.M. and shut off all electronics before going to bed for less distraction. Train your body to adjust to a consistent sleeping schedule that allows you to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep each night.
7. Stress and anxiety may influence sleep paralysis.
Stress and anxiety may keep you up at night, disrupting your sleep patterns and cycles. This makes you more prone to experiencing sleep paralysis. Find ways to cope with stress and anxiety, such as exercising more frequently or practicing mindfulness.
8. Sleeping on your back causes frequent episodes of sleep paralysis.
According to researchers who conducted the sleep paralysis project, people who sleep on their back often experience sleep paralysis more than any other sleep position. To prevent yourself from experiencing sleep paralysis as much as possible, try sleeping in alternative positions, such as on your side or your stomach. Although these other sleep positions might not be the most ideal or comfortable, researchers have found that they do reduce your chance of experiencing sleep paralysis. On a different note, stomach sleepers have unique requirements and can lead to back and neck problems if not followed.
9. Stay calm during sleep paralysis.
It’s advised to stay as calm as possible during sleep paralysis. Although it may be scary, know that it’s only temporary and that you can’t do anything while it’s happening. Staying calm helps you feel less attacked as you learn to rationalize it, rather than fearing it.
10. Talk to your doctor.
If your episodes of sleep paralysis get worse over time, it’s best to talk to your doctor about it. They will be able to give you more insights on other factors that may be influencing the situation. For instance, medications you take for other conditions, such as ADHD, may trigger sleep paralysis. Mental conditions, such as bipolar disorder, may play a part in contributing to it, too.
Do you experience sleep paralysis? How do you cope with it? Leave a comment down below!
Also, please be sure to check out Psych2Go’s video on sleep paralysis!
Blahd, W. (2016, October 16). Sleep Paralysis. Web MD. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
Bradford, A. (2017, September 13). Sleep Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. Live Science. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
Hallucinations and Sleep Paralysis. (2017). National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
Narcolepsy. (2017). National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
Sleep Paralysis – Overview & Facts. (2017). Retrieved September 26, 2017, from sleepeducation.org
The Sleep Paralysis Project. (2017). Retrieved September 26, 2017.