You’ve crawled into bed ready for a good night’s sleep. You begin to nod off, but haven’t completely fallen asleep yet. That’s when you sense something in the room near your bed. Despite your fright, you can’t cry out, run, or scream. You’re frozen with fear. This experience is known as sleep paralysis.
I Can’t Move: The Immobilizing Effects of Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a condition in which a person is mentally conscious but physically unable to move. It is sometimes accompanied by hallucinations of frightening invaders in the bedroom. The result is a scary, almost nightmarish experience of sensing an intruder but being unable to respond. Thankfully, this is nothing more than the product of a half-awake brain.
When does sleep paralysis occur?
Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is just falling asleep or waking up. During these transitions, you may find that you are unable to move or speak for a few seconds or as long as several minutes. Some people sweat, or even have a sense of choking and being unable to breathe.
The key to this paralyzed sensation is the transition into or out of deep REM sleep.
Why does sleep paralysis occur?
As you are sleeping, your body alternates between REM and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. During NREM, your body is relaxed. But when your body transitions into REM sleep, your eyes begin to move quickly and you start to dream. During the REM stage, your muscles “turn off”–an evolutionary mechanism to keep you from acting out your dreams while asleep. But if you start to wake up before the REM cycle is complete, you may find yourself immobilized when you become conscious
The effect of sleep paralysis may occur in addition to other disorders such as narcolepsy, migraines, and obstructive sleep apnea.
What Can You Do About It?
The Sleep Paralysis Project suggests that people who suffer from this condition create a very strict bedtime schedule. Research finds that an irregular sleep/wake cycle may be a factor in sleep paralysis. Here are some other tips:
- Understanding what is happening can make the experience less overwhelming–so reading this blog post is a good place to start! Try to relax and breathe normally to reduce the length and intensity of an attack.
- Concentrating on moving one small muscle, such as a finger, can break the paralysis and end the attack.
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