Sleep Paralysis – Types, Symptoms, Causes, Preventions

Sleep Paralysis – Types, Symptoms, Causes, Preventions

Dec 14, 2022

Sleep paralysis is a condition in which you temporarily lose control over body muscles. It usually happens when you are falling asleep or when you are waking up. This is a moment between sleeping and waking up. You are awake during this period and your eyes are open but cannot move your muscle.

It is a scary experience but it is harmless. It causes hallucination and anxiety that goes on for a few minutes before you again take control of your movements. A person can suffer visual, auditory, or sensory hallucinations. You feel helpless while experiencing sleep paralysis because you can see everything but cannot take any action.

Some things are still a mystery regarding sleep paralysis but researchers have analyzed the condition and its symptoms to frame some precautionary measures. Read further to know more about sleep paralysis.

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What are the different types of sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis can be described into two categories –

  1. Isolated sleep paralysis – The episodes are not connected to any underlying condition like narcolepsy.
  2. Recurrent sleep paralysis – Experiencing multiple sleep paralysis over time.

In some cases, these two categories are combined to describe the condition. When a person undergoes a series of sleep paralysis and does not have narcolepsy it is called recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP).

How does sleep paralysis feel?

The basic symptom that you will experience during an episode is loss of control over your muscles. Sleep paralysis will feel real but you cannot do anything to come over it. You need to wait till an episode is over or somebody moves you. It does not cause any physical harm but it surely is a nerve wreaking experience.

When undergoing sleep paralysis, around 75% of an episode includes hallucination. Hypnagogic hallucination and hypnopompic hallucination are the names of the hallucinations that occur while falling asleep and waking up respectively. Furthermore, hallucinations fall under three categories –

  1. Intruder hallucination – During this, you will feel a threatening presence in your room.
  2. Chest pressure hallucination – Here, you will feel suffocated. Also known as incubus hallucination, this happens along with the intruder hallucination.
  3.  Vestibular-motor hallucination – During this hallucination, you will feel different sensations or movements like flying.

What causes sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis happens when your mind and body are not in sync at the time of falling asleep or waking up. Anyone can experience this condition irrespective of age group. The early symptoms can be noticed from the age of 7 to 25 years. However, people suffering from certain medical conditions can experience this more often. The conditions include –

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Narcolepsy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Family history
  • Irregular sleeping pattern
  • Hypertension
  • Migraine
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

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What are the symptoms of sleep paralysis?

The most prominent symptom of sleep paralysis is the inability to move the body muscles during the episode. The duration of an episode can range from a few seconds to several minutes. However, there are some other symptoms too that can be kept in mind to feel at ease and be less alarming, that are –

  • Hallucinating the presence of someone or something around you.
  • Feels like you are being pushed down
  • Being scared
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Headaches and muscle pains
  • Sweating
  • Feeling pressure on the chest
  • Paranoia

Usually, the episode ends on its own or when someone touches you. Also, when the episode ends, you can recall the details of the sleep paralysis.

How to diagnose sleep paralysis?

No medical test is required to determine sleep paralysis. The doctor will ask about your sleeping pattern and analyze your symptoms and medical history. If you lose your sleep regularly, then the doctor may ask you to conduct an overnight sleep study where he will record your brain waves and breathing pattern.

Typically, a person experiences sleep paralysis once or twice in their lifetime. But you should seek medical help if you have recurrent sleep paralysis and it is causing anxiety or deteriorating your quality of life.

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How to prevent sleep paralysis?

There is no specific treatment for sleep paralysis but consulting a doctor will be immensely helpful. They can discover an underlying condition and give steps to control it. Still, there are some measures that you can do on your own to prevent it.

  • Healthy sleeping of 6-8 hours every night
  • Keeping the same bedtime and waking-up time
  • Avoiding heavy meals at night
  • Lowering lights and using night bulbs at night
  • Keeping the room temperature low
  • Being away from stress
  • Regular exercise but not before bedtime
  • Avoid overworking your body
  • Taking on-time medications
  • Eliminating alcohol and caffeine consumption from the evening
  • Avoid sleeping on your back
  • Knowing the side effects of medications to prevent it, including sleep paralysis
  • Yoga and breathing practices
  • Therapy and counseling
  • Getting sufficient daylight

Consulting a doctor will help you in discovering underlying conditions like narcolepsy or help in treating your past trauma. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, take antidepressants to eliminate sleep paralysis.

Is sleep paralysis a serious issue?

In most cases, sleep paralysis is not a serious or life-threatening problem. It is frightening and exhausting but harmless. However, people who suffer from recurrent sleep paralysis may undergo an extremely distressing episode. It can lead them to have negative thoughts before sleep, developing anxiety disorders or sleep deprivation.

There is not much data on sleep paralysis but researchers state that approximately 8% of people encounter the condition at some point. There is still very little record of how frequently they occur.

While in sleep paralysis, your mind is conscious but not your body. It takes a minute or two to regain control over your muscles. After it ends, you will be hyperventilating and will be frightened. Do not stress much. Take appropriate and timely measures to diminish the episodes. Remember, sleep paralysis is not a dangerous medical condition but it can surely affect your mind. It can lead to anxiety or lower your quality of life which will overall affect your body.