Asleep and Unable to Move? Sleep Paralysis Explained

Have you ever woken up in the night and not been able to move? You are not alone as the phenomenon of sleep paralysis is more common than you think. Here is an overview of what it is, the possible risk factors and potential treatments for sleep paralysis.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

According to WebMD, sleep paralysis is when you feel like you are conscious but you feel like your body is paralysed. It is a strange and sometimes frightening sensation to have an awareness of your surroundings yet be unable to move.

What Does It Mean?

Although it can be a terrifying experience, sleep paralysis will not actually do you any harm. It happens during one of two stages of sleep. The first stage is hypnagogic and this is before you have fallen completely asleep and the second is hypnopompic and this stage occurs as you wake from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

During REM sleep, the muscles of the body are paralyzed and one reason for this is so that the body doesn’t act out dreams. In the case of hypnopompic sleep paralysis, one part of the brain wakes sooner than it should but the part of the brain that is responsible for paralysis is not affected. This results in the sensation that you are awake and without the ability to control muscles.

Who is Affected by Sleep Paralysis?

In theory, anyone can experience sleep paralysis and most people will do so at least once in their lives. However, while some people only experience this on an occasional basis, for others it is a regular occurrence. In some cases, there is no particular reason why a person may experience sleep paralysis, but there is some evidence to suggest that there are certain groups of people who are more prone to sleep paralysis. The risk factors include the following:

• A poor sleep pattern, lack of sleep or changes in sleeping patterns

• Some mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder

• Substance abuse

• Some medications

• Sleep problems, such as restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy

• Sleeping on your back

What Are the Symptoms?The only significant symptom you will experience as a result of sleep paralysis is the unpleasant sensation of wakefulness alongside a loss of muscular control. A side effect of this problem is potential tiredness after a broken nights’ sleep.

Potential Treatments

As this is something that occurs naturally and does not cause any harm, treatment is not always required. However, possible treatments include:

• Referral to either a sleep specialist or a mental health professional

• Implementing a good sleep schedule

• Treatment for any sleep disorders

• Prescription of anti-depressant medication or sleeping aids

If you have ever experienced sleep paralysis, you are not alone as this is more common than people realize. It won’t do you any harm, but if it is a persistent problem it is worth seeing the doctor to address any underlying causes. Sometimes, it is simply a case of making some lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol or having regular sleeping patterns. For people who are experiencing sleep paralysis on a regular basis, further intervention may be required.


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