Have you ever woken up and felt stuck to your bed, unable to move your limbs? There seemed to be someone in the room, watching you, advancing toward you menacingly, sometimes even drawing the sheets away. You couldn’t breathe! Feels like someone was sitting on your chest! And though you wanted to scream, you couldn’t even whisper, you are locked as you are on bed, got terrified, waiting for the unimaginable to happen. Then you were suddenly released or you woke up or even drifted back to sleep. I know you just thought of some paranormal activity or black magic. Absolutely Wrong way you are going to.
Because this is not a visit from malevolent spirits or evil aliens. The medical term for this phenomenon is sleep paralysis.
In medical Terms it is a temporary inability to move, speak, or react during waking up or falling asleep despite being in a state of consciousness. It is a sleep disorder that falls under the category of parasomnia or unusual behavior during sleep and the episodes last for a few seconds to minutes. Based on the time when it occurs, it can be categorized as:
• Hypnagogic or predormital – when falling asleep
• Hypnopompic or post-dormital – when waking up
Though sleep paralysis begins mostly during adolescence, there have been cases of onset in childhood or middle age. It can be mild, moderate to extreme severe for different durations like in month or less or more and may turn to chronic.
Causes of Sleep Paralysis
As you begin to fall asleep, your body starts relaxing, taking you through the 4 stages of the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) phase, eventually lulling you into deep sleep. After 80 to 100 minutes, you move into the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, where you start dreaming vividly. You keep repeating this NREM/REM cycle till you wake up.
During REM, your brain releases chemicals called glycine and GABA to paralyze your muscles so that you don’t physically act out the dreams. This state is called atonia. Your brain is highly active; your breathing is irregular; and your heart rate and blood pressure are high.
While Falling Asleep: If you start dreaming as soon as you begin to fall asleep, it causes overlap between wakefulness and sleep, causing hypnagogic sleep paralysis.
While Waking Up: Hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs when you wake up before the REM stage is complete. This is due to an overlap in sleep states or an overlap between wakefulness and sleep. This can happen if:-
Nerves that make you sleep are hyperactive and those that wake you are underactive. So your brain delays in releasing your muscles.
• The groups of nerve cells responsible for sleep – the REM sleep-on neurons – are hyperactivated.
• Or the group of nerve cells responsible for wakefulness and/or non-REM sleep – the REM sleep-off neurons – is underactive. This is because melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates the sleep-off neurons, becomes lowest during REM sleep.
• Or both these occur together.
You have woken up, but your brain has not released the muscles and is still in the dream state. Hence the bizarre hallucinations and experiences that often accompany sleep paralysis
Sleep Paralysis Hallucinations
There are usually 3 kinds of visual hallucinations, also called hypnagogic hallucinations, that accompany sleep paralysis.
Unusual Bodily Experience Or Out-Of-Body-Experience
How To Stop Sleep Paralysis
Focus on breathing steadily. Then focus on moving a toe or a finger. Remember that this is just a minor glitch in the body. It will pass. Stay relaxed and do not stressfully overthink as it takes away your good night sleep.
Points to Remember:-
• Stick to a consistent sleep schedule and ensure that you get enough quality, restorative sleep. Adults usually need 6 to 8 hours of sleep daily.
• Do not have a large meal or consume alcohol, caffeine, and drugs right before you sleep.
• Exercise daily but maintain a gap of at least 4 hours between your exercise and sleep.
• Keep electronic devices away from yourself at least half an hour before sleeping.
• Don’t sleep on your back or with your hands placed across your chest.
• Have positive thoughts accompanied by Meditation.