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The Frightening State Of Sleep Paralysis

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 3 Mar 2013 | comments*Discuss
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 Paralysis

There 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 Paralysis

Some 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 Paralysis

There 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.

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I have experienced SP for 41 years so it won't kill you.The fear is the worst of it so try and learn to control the fear.I found that fighting the attack seems to prolong it so I would just relax my way thru it. I had NO resources to help me for a very long time. There were times the SP was debilitating because of the number and frequency of episodes. SP definately runs in my family but I was the first to talk about it. My first episode was so terrifying I thought(,and discounted )...alien abduction, so I understand some folks wanting to cling to these ideas but I'd much rather have the truth, so I kept looking until finally 10 or 16 yrs. ago I first started finding things on the net about SP. I have experienced a rare obe or two from SP and have had SP in the middle of dreaming and knew it so I woke up. I also have had lucid dreams and total dream recall for a long time. I have had dreams that came true a few times. This is a very good site for SP and other dream related info. Thank you.
G/Ma fae - 3-Mar-13 @ 6:37 AM
I have suffered from SP for years, as does my daughter and my son, could this be hereditary?
MOJO - 4-May-12 @ 3:32 PM
Lately its been happening twice a month, I feel helpless when I have sleep paralysis it only happens when I sleep with my mouth open I can hear everything around me but can't move or yell out to my wife. Now I've read this article I have a better understanding about the problem thanks.
yoda - 19-Sep-11 @ 9:36 AM
I have experienced this from such a young age, It really does feel like their is someone in the room a strong presence of some sort, it's very frightning! but as I know to expect them while dreaming it doesnt leave a lasting impression just slight annoyance. :) I think you should look up melatonin levels. The reasons why I have these dreams is due to stress levels if they increase so does the paraylsis, my alternative sleeping patterns have a impact on them, alcohol seems to make them occur aswell. Thank you for posting this article - it's helped me understand the reasons why this happens and at the end of the day is not harmful. reasurrance from others is a great way to keep clam while feeling this way.
Chelsea - 9-May-11 @ 2:57 PM
For years I felt alone with SP. the Internet has allowed me to learn more of this terrifying condition I suffer. Thank you for this article. Is there a way if increasing Melatonin levels? Is it hereditary?
Rozza - 19-Apr-11 @ 11:09 PM
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