The Frightening State Of Sleep Paralysis
From time to time, we all experience nightmares. These are usually caused by the day-to-day stress we each face in our personal and professional lives. However, sleep paralysis is not a dream or nightmare, but a frightening condition that temporarily paralyses the sleeper shortly before falling asleep or after waking up.
What is Sleep Paralysis?Sleep Paralysis resembles the paralysis that naturally occurs as part of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep state. This paralysis occurs to keep us from physically acting out our dreams. Normally, the paralysis occurs after you go to sleep and disappears right before you awake.
However, in the case of sleep paralysis, the sleeper's mind is awake, not in dreams or nightmare, but their body remains in the paralysis. This means the person is fully awake, not in sleep, but cannot move. As if that were not frightening enough, the paralysis may also include both hypnagogic (at the onset of sleep) or hypnopompic (leading out of sleep) hallucinations.
These hallucinations are very vivid and often add to an overall feeling of danger for the sleeper. The person may also experience the feeling of a presence in the room with them, the inability to breathe, the inability to speak or scream, and a floating/falling sensation.
How Long Does Sleep Paralysis Last?Sleep paralysis can last anywhere from several seconds to several minutes, depending on the individual. During this time, he or she may realise that the hallucinations were not real, but still feel a great amount of anxiety or fear when trying to 'struggle' to wake up.
The Causes Of Sleep ParalysisThere is no clear reason as to why sleep paralysis happens to some and not others. Scientists theorise that perhaps it is caused by a low level of melatonin, which stops the depolarisation current in the nerves. This stops the stimulation of the muscles that normally occurs before or after the REM state of sleep, thus leaving the muscles paralysed.
Research has shown that the following may increase the likelihood of sleep paralysis:
- Sleeping on your back with your face up
- Irregular sleep schedules including naps, sleeping late, not sleeping enough
- An increase in stress
- Sudden changes in your life (either to your environment or to your lifestyle)
- Experiencing a lucid dream or nightmare immediately before the sleep paralysis
Ghosts And Abductions And Sleep ParalysisSome scientists think that maybe sleep paralysis is responsible for many reports of people claiming to have seen ghosts or been abducted by aliens. The vivid hallucinations that occur during sleep paralysis can make the individual think that there is someone or something else in the room with them. The sleeper may also hear strange sounds or feel a weight on his or her chest, as if a heavy object has been set on it.
Treatment Of Sleep ParalysisThere are two ways to deal with sleep paralysis - naturally and through medication. People who suffer from regular bouts of sleep paralysis often find it easier to cope with because they realise there are no lasting effects and that the paralysis will eventually pass with time. After you first experience sleep paralysis and you know that it will eventually go way, try to breathe calmly, and attempt to move certain parts of your body first, like your eyelids, fingers, or toes. You can also get on a regular sleep schedule, get more exercise, and reduce stress to try to alleviate the sleep paralysis.
If the sleep paralysis is particularly distressful, the doctor may prescribe medication. A 0.5 mg dose of Clonazepam can offer relief. Some people respond well to a 20 mg dose of Ritalin to help structure their sleep patterns and prevent sleep paralysis. However, blood pressure among other things should be monitored in those taking Ritalin.
The important thing to remember is that while sleep paralysis can be scary, it is not harmful. Many people have gone through this, so you are not dying or losing your mind. The more you are able to remain calm, the quicker the episode should end. If you find it bothers you that badly and you cannot regulate it through schedule, exercise, and diet, talk to your doctor to see what else can be done.