If not a sleep paralysis you must have heard people sharing the story and make others believe of a non-existing ghost…? Or last night they had experienced some superstitious power! Let’s get clear with an example, one night, I am just about to fall asleep, and all of a sudden I felt a pressure on my chest, I felt so conscious and awake but I am not able to move my body, I wish to lift up my hands, but still, I can’t. Yes, a feeling like some negative energy (rather a ghost) sitting upon me and not allowing my body to move a bit. On the very next day, I might share this scary experience with others and the allegation falls on those pitiful ghosts..!!
Days back to the 10th century, people from many cultures used to explain sleep paralysis as a way to explain supernatural events or ghost and alien abduction. In Egypt, sleep paralysis was often thought to be caused by a “jinn”. In Italy, it was described as a “witch “or “giant cat”. In South Africa, people believed that the state to be caused by “black magic” and in Turkey some mysterious “spirit-like creatures”. Seeing how scary this state was in the minds of people, they were convinced that sleep paralysis was deadly.
So now coming to reality, all those beliefs and those motionless dreams which you had ever before was just a disorder of your sleep cycle.
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move that occurs right after falling asleep or waking up and it’s a condition in which we are conscious. Those who suffer from sleep paralysis commonly report feeling immense pressure on their chest during episodes of sleep. Adding to their feelings of anxiety during the paralyzed state, it can cause troubling hallucinations and strangling sensation.
It takes you a minute to kind of figure out, where you are or what’s happening. Many people who struggle with sleep paralysis report a feeling or even seeing things when they wake up and that’s when they realize that they can’t move and this makes sleep paralysis scarier. But no worries, it’s just your brain trying to wake up.
There are two types of sleep paralysis:
Predormital(Hypnagogic): Is the state when paralysis occurs at sleep onset or just before falling asleep.
Postdormital(Hypnopompic): Refers to sleep paralysis that occurs just after waking up at the transition in between sleep to awakening.
Sleep paralysis is different from nightmares or night terrors, it is that the brain is awake but the body is still in its sleep state. The good news about this is, a feeling lasts from 20 seconds to a few minutes and affects about 4 out of every 10 people. There will be no physical damage to the person experiencing this but they cannot pull themselves out of it and must wait for the state to pass. It’s a sign that our body is not moving smoothly through the sleep cycles, and this is aggravated by stress and sleep pattern changes.
However, it is completely normal to experience sleep paralysis from time to time but when it becomes frequent and distressing or sometimes when associated with other symptoms of sleep disorders, then it requires treatment.
What Is The Cause Of Sleep Paralysis?
The causes of sleep paralysis are likely to be multifactorial. It is therefore important for researchers and clinicians to understand the factors that may affect sleep paralysis and the frequency of intensity and episodes it occurs.
Sleep schedule: Any disturbance in regular sleep pattern and excessive and uncontrollable daytime sleepiness, where even the hormones(Melatonin) get distracted and you feel this frozen stage.
REM: Sleeping paralysis is closely associated with REM. During sleep, your brain cycles through five different stages, which is called REM. So in short REM-“Rapid Eye Movement”, which consists of 25% of your sleep, occurs several times throughout the night. It is important because this is when dreaming occurs and the body becomes energized. During REM, signals are sent to your spinal cords and motor neuron, shutting off your movement of muscles of arms and legs and REM serves as the protector of ourselves and especially others so that we don’t kick out someone sleeping beside us while we dream. REM sleep is thought to work as a switch between two stages: REM on and REM off. REM on occurs at the same time when you are asleep. When sleep paralysis occurs, the neurons controlling REM off get weaker and this allows the REM neurons to prevent muscle movement, where the body is somewhat awake. This can cause sleep paralysis.
Poor mental wellness: The human mind is vastly more mysterious and occasionally malicious than one would have thought. Negative emotions, experiences, overstress or bipolar disorders can result in paralysis.
Sleeping position: People who sleep on their back are more likely to experience sleep paralysis than sleeping in other positions.
Neural Functions: Another cause is related to the neural functions of the body. This function regulates the sleep and when in case if out of balance, it causes overlap of different sleep stages.
Brain cells: Brain cells send signals for the complete awakening of the mind and the body from a sleeping state. When these cells face difficulty to overcome these signals which are given out by the cells responsible for sleeping state sleep paralysis occurs.
Medications: Certain medications can also cause sleep paralysis.
How Can You Overcome Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis occurs more in younger people, so 10 to 25 is a very common age for that to happen, and it may continue for a certain age.
So try to get enough sleep (6-8 hours). Keep track of your sleep and get into a more desirable schedule. Have a regular sleep and wake schedule.
Frequent exercise: Doing healthy exercise, practising yoga and meditations, keeps your mind and body relaxed and can help you clear the negative thoughts and get a good sleep.
Pre-relaxation practices before bedtime, just are relaxed and make sure you don’t carry the stress and negative thoughts to your bedroom. Make sure you get a soothing sleep.
Follow healthy eating habits: Avoid acidic food items, coffee, alcohol or nicotine intake before sleep, as these are responsible for less REM sleep which gives rise to sleep paralysis.
Switching off the phone or other electronic devices that may interrupt your sleep, as repeatedly waking up at night is one of the risk factors of sleep paralysis.
Although there is no denying that sleep paralysis can be a horrifying experience, the truth is there is nothing to be worried about. The idea is to trick yourself to not to be scared during one of its occurrences. It sure feels like an eternity to the sufferer, but it will be over in a few seconds. So next time just chill out to the intruder.!!
Also, remember if the episodes continue with a regular pattern, it’s always advisable to visit a sleep disorder specialist and before just make sure that you follow a regular sleeping pattern.
“Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary labourer and heals hurt minds”,
these words by Shakespeare reveal the beauty of sleep.
So, sleep well and wake up ready to go.!