Science Explains What Sleep Paralysis Does To Your Body (And Why It Happens)

Science Explains What Sleep Paralysis Does To Your Body (And Why It Happens)

sleep paralysisHealth

Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious, but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. – WebMD

Of all the weird sensations that one can experience, perhaps there is nothing stranger than not being able to move; more specifically, not being able to move while being consciously aware of one’s surroundings.

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If You’ve Ever Awakened At Night Unable To Move, Here’s What It Means…

Sleep paralysis is a strange and potentially frightening phenomenon. Essentially, the person experiencing sleep paralysis can’t move any part of their body, but yet remains conscious. Those that experience sleep paralyses are often terrified – an understandable reaction from not having voluntary control over one’s movements.

Fortunately, this is a relatively common occurrence and does not cause any physical harm to the body. Sleep paralysis happens during one of two stages -“hypnagogic” and “hypnopompic.” Hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs before falling asleep, while hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs as one wakes from REM sleep.

As we fall asleep, our body becomes deeply relaxed while our minds concurrently become less aware. However, when hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs, the mind remains aware while the body achieves an involuntary state of relaxation. The person then realizes that they’re unable to move despite their efforts, often leading to feelings of panic.

During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, our muscles are paralyzed so that we don’t act out our dreams. When one experiences hypnopompic sleep paralysis, a certain part of the brain wakes sooner. This wakeful state does not affect the part of the brain responsible for REM paralysis, however. The result is a certain degree of wakefulness and no voluntary control over muscles.

sleep paralysis

Who does sleep paralysis happen to?

Some people are fortunate enough to experience this situation just once or twice in their life, if ever. Unfortunately, some people experience this phenomenon often – even multiple times a week. A study undertaken at Penn State University discovered that approximately 8 percent of the population has frequent issues with sleep paralysis. Individuals with mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are more prone to frequent episodes of sleep paralysis.

People affected by sleep apnea; people on specific types of medication, and those with an underlying sleep condition may experience more frequent episodes of sleep paralysis.

Here is the full list of risk factors, according to WebMD:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Frequent changes in sleep schedule
  • Mental conditions, such as stress or bipolar disorder
  • Sleeping on the back
  • Sleep problems such as narcolepsy or nighttime leg cramps
  • Certain types of medication, such as those with ADHD
  • Substance abuse

What are the symptoms?

Under almost every circumstance, individuals that experience sleep paralysis is unable to move or speak from a few seconds to a few minutes. As mentioned, this usually occurs during the initial stages of falling asleep and almost immediately after waking up.

While sleep paralysis often requires no type of treatment, a doctor may further inquire into other areas that pertain to sleep health. Should sleep conditions linger or worsen, the medical professional may then refer to a sleep specialist.

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What are the treatments for sleep paralysis?

Because this sensation occurs naturally, there is generally no prescribed treatment. However, if a medical professional detects an underlying condition in the process of diagnosis, a treatment regimen may be in order. Such prescribed treatments are:

  • Implementation of a sleeping schedule
  • Prescription for an anti-depressant
  • Referral to a mental health professional
  • Referral to a sleep specialist
  • Treatment of any underlying sleep disorders
  • Prescription for sleeping aids

Often times, making adequate sleep a priority while limiting unnecessary stress (especially before bedtime) will suffice as a deterrent to sleep paralysis. Because of the enigmatic nature of the condition, the effectiveness of formal and informal treatments to alleviate it is ambiguous at best.

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