Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that can take place at sleep onset or sleep offset.
It is characterized by feelings of suffocation and an inability to move, which can be frightening for those who experience it. But what exactly is sleep paralysis?
What are the symptoms, types, causes, and treatments? Read on to find out more about this condition!
What is Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that takes place during sleep.
It generally occurs when someone begins to fall asleep or wakes up, but it can also happen while they are falling into sleep and just before waking up as well.
Sleepers in this state will experience temporary inability to move (called muscle atonia), feelings of suffocation, sleep paralysis hallucinations, sleepwalking episodes, sleep talking, and a sleep-related eating disorder.
Sleep paralysis typically lasts less than two minutes, but it can continue for hours.
There are four types of sleep paralysis:
- hypnagogic sleep paralysis, which takes place when falling asleep and is often accompanied by sleep paralysis hallucinations.
- hypnopompic sleep paralysis, which occurs when waking up and is often accompanied by sleepwalking episodes.
- sleep onset sleep paralysis, which takes place when first falling asleep.
- sleep offset sleep paralysis, which occurs just before waking up and is often accompanied by sleep talking and sleep-related eating disorders.
Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis
The symptoms that occur with sleep paralysis vary depending on the type experienced: REM sleep parasomnia; narcolepsy without cataplexy (hypnagogic or hypnopompic); other sleep disorders; sleep deprivation; no sleep disorder present.
REM sleep parasomnia: sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes and it is often accompanied by sleep paralysis hallucinations.
Sleep paralysis hallucinations can take many forms including sleep paralysis with hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations.
Narcolepsy without cataplexy (hypnagogic or hypnopompic sleep paralysis): sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes and is often accompanied by sleepwalking episodes.
Hypnagogic sleep paralysis often occurs when falling asleep and is characterized by sleep paralysis hallucinations such as sleep paralysis with hypnagogic hallucinations.
Hypnopompic sleep paralysis often occurs when waking up and is characterized by sleepwalking episodes.
Sleep onset sleep paralysis: sleep paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes and it is often accompanied by sleep talking.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
There are many different causes for sleep paralysis, but sleep deprivation is a key contributor.
When someone doesn’t sleep enough, their brain will be in an excited state and this can make them more susceptible to sleep paralysis on sleep onset or offset.
Other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy can also cause sleep paralysis, and it may be a symptom of another sleep disorder that hasn’t been diagnosed yet.
More causes of sleep paralysis can include sleep-related eating disorders, sleep-disordered breathing, metabolic issues, and psychiatric disorders.
How to Prevent Sleep Paralysis
There are many ways that you can help prevent sleep paralysis from occurring when it's one of the sleep disorders that are present (REM sleep parasomnia, narcolepsy without cataplexy).
If you are struggling with sleep deprivation and experiencing sleep paralysis more often, then make sure to get enough sleep. Additionally, those who have been diagnosed with REM sleep parasomnia can talk to their doctor about medication or other treatments for the disorder.
Some sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep-related eating disorder can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
Additionally, it is possible to prevent sleep paralysis by making sure you are getting enough sleep, not sleep-deprived, and managing any other sleep disorders.
Treatments for Sleep Paralysis
There are two general types of sleep paralysis, REM sleep parasomnia, and narcolepsy without cataplexy.
For those who have been diagnosed with REM sleep parasomnia, there are treatments that can be prescribed by a doctor.
Additionally, these individuals may also benefit from scheduled naps or a sleep schedule that includes a nap. For those who have narcolepsy without cataplexy, medications and lifestyle changes may help with the disorder.
For sleep paralysis that has no sleep disorder present, there are also treatments.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be used to treat sleep-related anxiety disorders, sleep-related eating disorders, and other sleep-related problems.
Additionally, self-help sleep hygiene techniques such as controlled breathing can help with sleep paralysis.
A good mattress can also help with sleep paralysis as it can relieve pressure on the body.
Sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs when your body has entered REM sleep, but you aren’t able to move.
It results in hallucinations and often people feel as though they are being attacked or there is an intruder present.
The best way to prevent this from happening is by getting enough sleep every night and making sure you go through the full cycle of stages. If it does happen, try not to panic because it will pass soon after one minute (usually).
With some patience and time, these episodes should subside on their own without any intervention needed.