If you have ever woken up and been unable to move, yet you are consciously awake, you have experienced sleep paralysis. In these events, no matter how much you will your body to move, it cannot respond. This may last for a few seconds to a few minutes, but for anyone that has experienced it, the time feels much longer. The good news is that it is typically not anything to worry about, but it is still scary enough to want to know what your body goes through.
When Sleep Paralysis Occurs
You can experience sleep paralysis either while you are trying to go to sleep or when you are trying to wake up. If you experience it while trying to go to sleep, it is called hypnagogic sleep paralysis and it occurs during the first phase of sleep when your body is trying to relax. Once you start to enter the sleep phase, your mind may remain slightly aware, at which point you may realize that you are unable to move your body. If you experience paralysis while trying to wake up, you experience hypnopompic sleep paralysis. This occurs when your mind wakes up during REM sleep, which is the “deep sleep” in which you experience dreams and nightmares. This is the sleep that you get the least amount of per night, but is the most important. If you happen to suddenly wake during this phase, your mind may be awake and your eyes open, but your body is still in REM and unable to move.
Reasons it Occurs
Sleep paralysis, like many other disorders, often does not have a rhyme or reason for occurring. Sometimes it is hereditary and there is nothing you can do about it, while other times it is due to changes you are going through, whether you are experiencing large amounts of stress, are dealing with a time change, or are suffering from a specific sleep disorder, such as narcolepsy. If there are no underlying causes found, such as a mental health disorder, excessive stress, or a sleep disorder, it is considered an isolated event and steps to help you relax will help you get more restful sleep.
Diagnosing the Disorder
Typically, doctors do not do anything about sleep paralysis unless it becomes a chronic condition or if it interrupts your regular sleep pattern for a long period of time. If this is the case, the doctor may ask you to keep a sleep diary and have you undergo a full medical evaluation. Oftentimes another underlying cause is found that is disrupting your sleep and causing the issue. When that medical condition is resolved, the paralysis goes away.
Treating the Disorder
Due to the fact there is no real diagnosis for sleep paralysis, there is no one standard treatment either. Doctors treat it on a case-by-case basis, figuring out what is causing the problem and treating that issue rather than the paralysis. For example, if it is found that you have high levels of anxiety, you may be given anti-anxiety medication, provided with stress reducing techniques to use at home, or even provided with some counseling. If you have narcolepsy or leg cramps causing the issues, your doctor will discuss the proper methods of treatment to alleviate those issues and hopefully put an end to the sleep paralysis.
If you experience paralysis in your sleep, do not think you are crazy or you imagined things – it could happen. It is when the issue becomes chronic that you may have to seek help. Your sleep is a very important component of your health and if you become afraid to go to sleep because of the paralysis you experience or you do not get quality sleep, your health could suffer, which could provide devastating results in the future. If you are worried about the things that happen when you sleep – seek medical attention today