Sleep Paralysis is a frightening form of paralysis that occurs when a person suddenly finds himself or herself unable to move for a few minutes, most often upon falling asleep or waking up. Paralysis during sleep is due to an ill-timed disconnection between the brain and the body.
Recurrent isolated paralysis during sleep is a parasomnia. A parasomnia involves undesired events that come along with sleep. Sleep paralysis causes you to be unable to move your body at either of the two following times:
- When falling asleep (hypnagogic or predormital form).
- When waking up from sleep (hypnopompic or postdormital form).
Normally your brain causes your muscles to relax and be still as you sleep. This is called “atonia.” Sleep paralysis seems to be when this atonia occurs while you are awake. Paralysis is “isolated” when it appears without any other signs of narcolepsy.
Many people who commonly enter paralysis during sleep also suffer from narcolepsy. In African Americans, panic disorder occurs with sleep paralysis more frequently than in Caucasians. Some reports read that various factors increase the likelihood of both paralysis and hallucinations. These include:
- Sleeping in a face upwards or supine position.
- Irregular sleeping schedules - naps, sleeping in, sleep deprivation.
- Increased stress.
- Sudden environmental/lifestyle changes.
- A lucid dream that immediately precedes the episode.
Paralysis can affect men and women of any age group. The average age when it first occurs is 14 to 17 years. It is a fairly common sleep problem. Estimates of how many people have it vary widely from 5% to 40%. You may be more likely to have it if a relative also has it.
A lack of sleep can make you more likely to have sleep paralysis. It is also more likely if you have a sleep schedule that often changes. Mental stress may also be a factor. It seems to occur more often when you sleep on your back. It may also be related to any of the following factors:
- Bipolar disorder
- The use of certain medications
- Sleep related leg cramps
An attack of paralysis is usually harmless and self-limited. It tends to be over in a minute or two as soon as the brain and body re-establish connections and the person is able to move again. However, the memory of the terrifying sensations felt during sleep paralysis can long endure. (Some scholars believe that paralysis associated with sleep may account for some of the old claims of attacks by witches and the more recent "reports" of nocturnal abduction by space aliens.)
A rare fatal form of paralysis may, it is thought, underlie the cases of healthy teenagers, mainly in Southeast Asia, who die in their sleep, sometimes after fighting for breath but without thrashing around.
Recurrent isolated paralysis is fairly common. In most cases, it does not affect your sleep or overall health. Talk to your doctor if episodes of sleep paralysis make you anxious. You should see a sleep specialist if the episodes keep you up at night or make you very tired during the day.
The doctor will need to know when the paralysis started. He or she will want to know how often it occurs and how long it lasts. The doctor will need to know your complete medical history. Be sure to inform him or her of any past or present drug and medication use.
Also tell your doctor if you have ever had any other sleep disorder. Find out if you have any family members with sleep problems. It will also be helpful if you fill out a sleep diary for two weeks. The sleep diary will help the doctor see your sleeping patterns. This data gives the doctor clues about what is causing your problem and how to correct it.
There is no need to fear nighttime demons or alien abductors. If you have occasional sleep paralysis, you can take steps at home to control this disorder. Start by making sure you get enough sleep. Do what you can to relieve stress in your life -- especially just before bedtime. Try new sleeping positions if you sleep on your back. And be sure to see your doctor if sleep paralysis routinely prevents you from getting a good night's sleep.
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sleep deprivation symptoms |
causes of sleep deprivation |
effects of sleep deprivation |
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