About 8% of us have experienced this at one point or another with higher rates for students, people of color, and people with psychiatric conditions. First it is important to understand what sleep paralysis represents, then I’ll tell us what to do when next you find yourself in one. Let’s go!!!
What is sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is simply an extension of the dream state called REM or rapid eye movement sleep. Its a feeling of being conscious but unable to move, it occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes, some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking which is sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, which add to the disagreeable nature of the situation. Sleep paralysis can be extremely frightening if you don’t know what it is.
Sleep paralysis usually occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you are falling asleep, it’s called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it happens as you are waking up, it’s called hypnopompic or post dormital sleep paralysis.
Consider the two states of consciousness – being asleep and being awake. There is normally a transition period between this states. During this transition, elements of consciousness – such as awareness of your environment may be preserved, while aspects of sleep such as dreaming may begin. A prolonged or disrupted transition may predispose you to the unusual experiences of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is believed to relate to a problem regulating REM sleep. When we dream our body switches off the ability to move so that we don’t injure ourselves acting out the dreams (this is called muscle atonia). When we wake, that ability is switched on but sometimes the features of REM sleep intrude into wakefulness, as such you will be unable to move even if you are conscious.
Clearly there are certain triggers of sleep paralysis, it often occurs during periods of sleep deprivation and stress. Sleep paralysis can also occur due to your sleeping position, (most people say it happens when they are sleeping on their back).
Sleeping paralysis is also associated with psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression. The use of alcohol or other drugs may also provoke an attack of sleep paralysis.
Try to relax as much as you can when you experience this, you don’t have to be scared, it’s only for a few minutes, it’ll pass.
•You’re more likely to have sleep paralysis:
1. If you sleep on your back
2. If you’re not getting enough sleep
3. If you’re stressed or depressed
4. If you have a sleep disorder
Here are a few ways that may help prevent sleep paralysis:
1. Get enough sleep
2. Avoid caffeine just before bed time
3. Avoid noise or lights
4. Pay attention to your mental health