All of us must have had this feeling of immobility and a scary figure breathing down our face while sleeping at least once in our life. This scary phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis. Let me help you understand more about this.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or upon waking. During sleep paralysis you’ll be conscious of your surrounding but will be unable to move your body. We can say that its a stage between being completely awake and deep slumber. A lot of people hallucinate during sleep paralysis making it more creepy.

What causes sleep paralysis?

Before explaining about the causes of sleep paralysis lets take a step back and understand the types of sleep. An average human sleep cycle is 90 minutes which is 75% of NREM ( Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and 25% of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

Non Rapid Eye Movement (Non-REM) Sleep:

Non-REM sleep has 3 stages. They last between 5-15 minutes. This happens before the REM sleep.

I stage : Our eyes remain closed, but it is easy for us to wake up. This stage lasts for about 10 minutes.

II stage: This stage is when your body is getting itself ready for deep sleep. It lasts for around 10-25 minutes.

III stage: This is the stage in which you are in deep slumber. It is difficult to wake someone from this stage.


Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep:

REM sleep happens about 90 minutes after we fall asleep. This sleep is when we have dreams.

During REM sleep the brain relaxes our muscles rendering us immobile so that we don’t act out our dreams in sleep. Sleep paralysis occurs when we regain awareness going into or coming out of REM. People with narcolepsy are said to be frequently affected by sleep paralysis since the disorder is associated with unstable sleep patterns.

There are several other causes as well like,

  • Shift work.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Insomnia.
  • PTSD.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Depression. 
  • Bipolar disorders.

Symptoms of sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is not a medical condition, but it does have a unique set of symptoms,

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Sweating 
  • Muscle aches
  • Paranoia 
  • Headaches
  • Feeling a presence in the room
  • Feeling that someone is sitting on us.
  • Hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences (HHEs)
  • Panic attacks.

What are Hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences?

Hypnopompic hallucinations occur while waking up while hypnagogic hallucinations occur while falling asleep.

Hypnopompic hallucinations are mostly visual. They often involve seeing moving shapes and colours, figures of animals or people. Between 8% and 34% of these hallucinations involve sound. Hypnagogic hallucinations are usually very short and fleeting and are occasionally prolonged.

What sleep paralysis feels like

How to prevent sleep paralysis

  • Reducing stress.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Getting sufficient rest.
  • Maintaining a proper sleep routine.
  • Keeping track of our medications.
  • Sleeping on our sides.
  • Trauma counselling. 
  • Yoga.
  • Reducing caffeine consumption.
  • Sleeping in a dark room.

Diagnosis of sleep paralysis

  • Overnight sleep study : This test monitors our breathing, heartbeat and brain activity while sleeping. It enables physicians to observe an episode of sleep paralysis or detect issues like sleep apnea.
  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT): This test measures how quickly you fall asleep and what kind of sleep we experience.

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