The Basics of Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is not something to be feared. It is simply the state right before going to sleep or waking up where you cease to have control over many of your otherwise voluntary muscles. However, some people also describe accompanying sensations, such as a tight chest and a need to choke. If you do not understand why this is taking place, it can be a frightening experience. The fear can be exacerbated by nightmares.
Why Sleep Paralysis Occurs
While sleep may seem like a single event after you wake up, your body actually goes through a variety of stages over the course of a night of sleep. The most well known stage is that of REM, or Rapid Eye Movement. This is the stage during which you experience dreams. If you’re in good health, your body will actually be able to send out a signal that inhibits many of your muscles during this phase. This is what prevents you from physically responding to your dreams. Without the limitations placed on your muscles, you could hurt yourself and others.
Thus, the disconcerting sleep paralysis you may briefly experience during lucid moments is actually what protects you and those around you while you’re dreaming. When this protection mechanism is not working properly people can physically maneuver about during their dreams, as is the case during sleep walking. Knowing this should make sleep paralysis a little less frightening for you if you are unable to move when you first wake up or during lucid dream states.
Most people will have this experience at some time or another. However, some people report experiencing it on a regular basis. If you find yourself experiencing sleep paralysis more often than you’d like, there are some things you can do to decrease the impact it has on you.
Simply sleeping in a different position alleviates the problem for some people. It appears to occur less often when individuals are sleeping on their backs. Another important thing to do is to get regular sleep. Many of those reporting regular sleep paralysis also report frequently getting less than eight hours of sleep.
Unusually high, prolonged levels of stress can often lead to difficulty with fully waking up. The combination of mental and physical fatigue commonly associated with this type of stress is known to trigger all sorts of problems with sleep, including sleep paralysis. If you are not able to prevent such periods of stress, you may be able to reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis by simply doing some relaxation exercises before going to bed. Even just reading a relaxing book by a dim light before going to sleep may be helpful.
Drugs are a common culprit in recurring sleep paralysis. Any drugs, whether prescription or otherwise, should be considered a possible cause. If the sleep paralysis began about the same time you changed a dosage or started taking a new medication, there is a good chance that your medication is the cause. ADHD medications are a commonly reported problem. Drugs you may not think of, such as caffeine and alcohol, are also common causes of such sleep related problems.
When It Gets Difficult to Deal With
For most people, simply knowing sleep paralysis is a temporary condition that results from normal body function during sleep is enough to get rid of any anxiety about the condition. However, some people find that when it happens on a regular basis something needs to be done.
If you talk to your doctor about the problem, you may be able to get a referral to a sleep specialist. Often the sleep paralysis occurs with other sleep conditions that may be more serious. So seeing a sleep specialist can be a good idea. Getting help to get yourself back on a regular, healthy sleep program can be beneficial in many ways, including the reduction of sleep paralysis episodes.
Old Sleep Paralysis Tidbit
It used to be thought that sleep paralysis was caused by demons trying to kill people during the night. Presumably the victim was being held down and choked. Some even believed these were episodes of violation by such mythical demons as Succubus and Incubus.