Sleep paralysis disorder has been troubling people in many cultures for centuries. Many individuals have recorded instances during their normal sleep pattern when they suddenly become unable to move or speak. Not surprisingly, this kind of reaction can be very upsetting and consequently these episodes have been chalked up to everything from witchcraft to evil spirits. The truth is that sleep paralysis is a very common and very non-threatening condition.
A sleep cycle is comprised of several different phases; these include REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. During a normal sleep cycle you smoothly move from one phase to another, usually without even being aware of doing so. When something happens to prevent you from making these changes, this is when sleep paralysis can occur.
In sleep paralysis disorder, an individual may experience an inability to move or speak for several seconds, either while in the process of falling asleep, called hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis, or while waking up, called hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis. In either case, the inability to move may be accompanied by pressure or a sense of choking. Sometimes this disorder accompanies other sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy.
While it may seem alarming, actually sleep paralysis is quite common, striking four in every ten people at some point in their life. It occurs most commonly among teenagers, but can strike individuals of any age and may run in families. It doesn't have a specific cause but some factors that can affect the ability to move easily through sleep cycles can include excess stress, a lack of sleep, sleeping on your back, and the presence of either other sleeping disorders or psychological conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Photographee.eu / stock.adobe.com
Photographee.eu / stock.adobe.com
In most cases there is no need to treat sleep paralysis disorder as it is not life threatening and doesn't cause any serious side effects. If it is related to another disorder, you may get relief by having the underlying condition treated, but otherwise there is no need to see your doctor unless your episodes of sleep paralysis are causing you undue anxiety or affecting your ability to get the proper amount of sleep.
If you do find your sleep habits disrupted by sleep paralysis you may be able to get relief by taking medication for related conditions such as narcolepsy or depression. Otherwise, you should focus on improving your sleeping conditions or sleep hygiene. Allow yourself to ease into sleep by sticking to a regular schedule and going to bed at the same time each night and making sure that you have the proper setting, including a darkened room, soft music or white noise, and no outside interference.
Doing yoga or practicing meditation to help relieve stress and allow you to enter a relaxed state can also help to improve your sleep and reduce the chances of sleep paralysis disorder occurring. Remember that sleep is just as important to your overall health as food and water, so you need to do everything you can to ensure that you are getting enough sleep every night.
No matter how disturbing it may seem, it's important to know that sleep paralysis is nothing to worry about. It's a common occurrence that may be signaling a deeper issue that is disrupting your sleep pattern. So don't panic, but do take it as a warning sign to help you figure out what is keeping you from getting a good night's sleep.