Have you ever felt that you are awake but unable to move? Did you feel fear but you couldn’t ask for help? This condition is called paralysis during sleep.
Paralysis while sleeping may occur in one person only once or frequently, several times a night. The good news is that this condition is not considered a health hazard.
Somnology researchers have come to the conclusion that, most of the time, paralysis during sleep is the sign of unnatural movements that occur when a person goes through the stages of sleep.
Rarely sleep paralysis has been associated with serious problems or psychiatric disorders. Over the centuries, the symptoms of paralysis in sleep have been described in many ways and have often been attributed to the presence of the evil unseen demons that appeared during the night, old and ugly women, alien abductors, etc.
We have long sought explanations for this mysterious type of sleep paralysis and the feelings of terror that accompany it.
What are paralysis during sleep?
Paralysis in sleep refers to the situation in which a person is conscious but unable to move. This occurs when a person goes from awake to sleeping.
During this transition, the sleeping person may be unable to move or talk for several seconds to several minutes. Some people may have the feeling of suffocation or pressure.
Sleep paralysis can also be accompanied by other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy – the overwhelming need to sleep, caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep.
When paralysis in sleep occur?
Paralysis during sleep does not usually occur consecutively. If it occurs when a person fall asleep, it is known as hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it manifests when a person is going to awake, or already awake, it is called hypnopompic or post-dormant sleep paralysis.
What happens in case of paralysis during hypnagogic sleep?
While a person is asleep, the body relaxes slowly. Usually, you will be less aware, and the change will be difficult to observe. However, if a person stays or becomes conscious when he is asleep, he will notice that he cannot move or talk.
What happens in case of paralysis during hypnopompic sleep?
During sleep the body alternates from REM (rapid eye movement) to NREM (non-rapid eye movement). A REM and NREM sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes. NREM sleep appears first and represents up to 75% of total sleep time.
During NREM sleep, the body relaxes and recovers. At the end of the NREM sleep, the transition to REM sleep occurs. The eyes begin to move quickly and dreams appear, but the rest of the body remains very relaxed. If a person is conscious before REM sleep, it is possible to notice that they cannot move or talk.
Who can get paralysis in sleep?
Four out of ten people may experience paralysis in sleep, and the condition usually occurs during the teenage years. Sleep paralysis can be found especially within the same family.
Other factors that may be related to sleep paralysis include:
– sleep deprivation
– a changing sleep program
– mental disorders such as stress or bipolar disorder
– sleeping on the back
– other sleep problems such as muscle cramps or narcolepsy at night
– use of certain medicines
– abuse of certain substances.
Diagnosis of paralysis in sleep
If you are unable to move or talk for a few seconds or minutes, when you fall asleep or wake up, you are likely to suffer from recurrent sleep paralysis.
Often there is no need to treat this condition. However, it is advisable to consult your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
– Your symptoms cause anxiety
– after the manifestations you feel tired during the day
– the symptoms persist throughout the night.
Because your doctor will want to know as much information as possible about your sleep habits, they might ask or recommend any of the following:
– keep a sleep journal log for several weeks and describe as much as possible the symptoms
– present details about your health, including any known sleep disorders that you manifest or manifest in your family.
– consult a somnology specialist for further evaluation.
How to treat paralysis during sleep?
Most people do not need any treatment for sleep paralysis. Treating any basic condition, such as narcolepsy, can help you if you are anxious or you cannot rest well.
Sleep paralysis can be a rare or even unique event. In these cases, treatment is not necessary. It is enough for many people to understand what is happening and to realize that something serious cannot happen, the condition often disappears by itself.
During an episode of paralysis in sleep, the affected person will be conscious but paralyzed. There are rare cases where other people have witnessed this phenomenon and have intervened. The episode will end when the person is able to move, very slowly, in a first phase, or fall asleep again.
Some people have found that a warning sound (noise that awakens them) or a tactile sensation can stop the episode. Some have noticed that sleep paralysis simply ceases abruptly. This lasts, usually only a few minutes.
Sometimes the person suffering from sleep paralysis can feel absolutely exhausted. The experience can be overwhelming emotionally and some people will find themselves wailing or crying, with a fast heartbeat, embarrassed by the experience and often avoid telling others about what happened.
Others are afraid to fall asleep. The first step in treating paralysis while sleeping is to avoid potential triggers. For those who have multiple episodes of paralysis during sleep and find them intolerable, drugs such as selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) may be helpful.
Other conditions that could disrupt sleep should be treated. If the problem becomes recurrent, consult your doctor to find out other treatment options available.