Sleep paralysis is unusual behavior during night sleep or naps, and between 5% and 40% of the population have experienced it at least once. If you’ve ever woken up in the night, sweating and unable to speak or move, you may have had a sleep paralysis episode.
Every culture has had stories of sleep paralysis hallucinations that frighten people trying to get a good night’s sleep. Over the centuries, this phenomenon has carried many different names, often associated with a “terrifying and evil presence.” One good example is when Shakespeare referred to the sleep paralysis creature as “the old hag” in his Romeo and Juliet play.
If you are curious to learn what sleep paralysis is and how to prevent sleep paralysis, scroll down and keep reading!
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
So, what is sleep paralysis? Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon you can experience when falling asleep, a few minutes after you fall asleep, or when you start waking up. During sleep paralysis, people can’t control their muscles, so they can’t move any part of their body. Moreover, they can’t say a word or ask for help, which puts them in panic mode.
This condition doesn’t last for long and isn’t dangerous, but it is scary, especially if you wake up in the dark, fully paralyzed and incapable of speaking while your eyes are wide open.
Sleep paralysis is also famous as atonia, and people experiencing it may have hallucinations while their episodes of sleep paralysis last. Things like sleep paralysis demons occur often.
People who have sleep paralysis experience it between 14 and 17 for the first time. It’s a pretty common sleep condition, but people never get used to it and accept it as a regular occurrence as it is a terrifying experience.
Why Is Sleep Paralysis So Creepy?
Sleep paralysis is incredibly bloodcurdling because you immediately feel frightened and anxious when you realize that you cannot speak and move during the episode.
The most fear-provoking aspect of this condition is when you are “wide awake” for only a few seconds or a few minutes, but it seems like an eternity until you wake up fully. In these moments, your brain works faster than the body.
During a regular sleep cycle, the body and brain awake at the same time and almost instantly. But, the minute your mind wakes up and your body is still sleeping, you feel entirely helpless, not ready to follow your wake-up and get-up routine.
In some cases, the anxiety and panic you may feel during the episodes can result in occasional dream-like or hallucination visions. Despite the panic attacks and fear that sleep paralysis induces, you can breathe normally and aren’t in danger.
There is no rule regarding how often you’ll have sleep paralysis episodes. Some people have them regularly, others will have one or two in their entire lifetime, and the few lucky ones will never have to suffer through one.
What Are the Types of Sleep Paralysis?
We can use two terms to distinguish between the two types of sleep paralysis: isolated and recurrent sleep paralysis.
Sometimes sleep paralysis can occur because a person suffers from narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that stops the brain from controlling wakefulness properly and can lead to sleep paralysis. When an individual has a sleep paralysis episode but doesn’t have narcolepsy, and it happens once, doctors call it isolated sleep paralysis.
The other type of sleep paralysis is recurrent sleep paralysis. It typically manifests in several episodes over time.
These two defining characteristics are often combined to describe a state of RISP (recurrent isolated sleep paralysis). This condition involves multiple sleep paralysis episodes in individuals who don’t suffer from narcolepsy.
Is Sleep Paralysis a Serious Problem?
Sleep paralysis happens rarely, so it doesn’t cause serious health problems, and it is considered a benign condition. However, about 10% of people might experience bothersome episodes because they might go through episodes more often.
As a result, these people may start avoiding going to bed, refuse to turn the lights off, and even become sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation often leads to extreme sleepiness and other problems for their overall health.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Teenagers and adults can have sleep paralysis problems. But, certain groups of people have higher chances of experiencing this condition.
These groups include individuals with some of the following conditions:
- Anxiety disorders;
- Bipolar disorder;
- Major depression;
- PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Sleep paralysis results from a disconnection between the body and mind during sleep.
However, here are some of the other causes of this condition:
- Sleep disorders such as apnea;
- Poor sleep hygiene, or lack of sleep habits which are crucial for quality sleep;
- Lack of sleep and sleeping on your back also increases the risks of getting an episode;
- Not having a proper sleep schedule can also be a reason for sleep paralysis. People who work night shifts experience sleep paralysis more often.
Sleep paralysis may also run in families, but this is a rare occurrence. There is no clear scientific proof that this condition is hereditary. However, some studies report that it is mildly heritable.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis?
Although sleep paralysis isn’t dangerous, knowing its symptoms can put you at ease.
The key characteristic of a sleep paralysis episode is the inability to speak and move. This condition usually lasts between a couple of seconds and two minutes.
However, during the episode, you may also have the following sleep paralysis symptoms:
- Feeling that something is pushing your chest down;
- Feeling fear;
- Feeling like something or someone is in the room;
- HHEs (Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Experiences) are hallucinations that happen right before, during, or after sleep.
Even though the following symptoms are rare, some people may experience:
- Difficulty breathing;
- Feeling like you’re going to die;
- Muscle aches;
Sleep paralysis episodes usually end on their own, but if there is somebody close to you who can move you or touch you, they’ll be able to interrupt the episode. You can remember all the details of your experience when you wake up as you are aware of what is happening, but you aren’t able to speak or move.
How is Sleep Paralysis Diagnosed?
Medical tests can’t diagnose sleep paralysis, but your doctors may recognize it using standard questions about your medical history and sleeping patterns. Documenting how you feel while your episode still lasts and keeping a sleep diary can also help.
Very often, when sleep paralysis causes sleep disorders, your doctors may recommend you to take part in an overnight sleep session to track your breathing and brain waves during sleep.
Tips for Quality Dreams Without Sleep Paralysis
Making much-needed sleeping changes in your life can contribute to quality sleep and better nightly rest.
Here are some of the tips that can help you avoid sleep paralysis:
- Follow the same sleep schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends;
- Reduce consumption of caffeine and alcohol, especially in the late afternoons and evenings;
- Keep an aromatherapy set that will make you relaxed and comfortable during the night
- Arm your bed with the best pillows and mattresses for you;
- Limit the noise and light in your bedroom;
- Put away all electronic devices, such as laptops and cell phones, 30 minutes before bed.
CBT-I (cognitive-behavioral therapy for treating insomnia) helps you develop better sleep hygiene. It is a talk therapy that reverses negative emotions and thoughts that can detract you from sleep.
A specific type of CBT caters to individuals dealing with sleep paralysis, but unfortunately, scientists need to do additional research to validate its efficiency. CBT is a well-known method for identifying mental health issues such as PTSD and anxiety, which happen to increase the chances of sleep paralysis.
Your pharmacist may recommend you some medications that suppress REM sleep. These medications can also help you with your sleep paralysis. However, you must talk to your specialist before you start using them, as these medications can cause some additional problems due to their side effects.
How to Prevent Sleep Paralysis?
There is no guarantee that you won’t experience sleep paralysis in the future. Still, you can make some lifestyle changes that may minimize its symptoms or even reduce the frequency of sleep paralysis episodes.
Make the following changes to prevent sleep paralysis:
- Avoid stress and negative people in your life;
- Sleep on your side instead of sleeping on your back;
- Do exercise every day but not before bedtime;
- Sleep for at least seven hours;
- Keep track of whatever medication you take;
- Learn more about the side effects of your medications and try to avoid those whose side effects include sleep paralysis;
- Try online therapy;
- Try trauma counseling;
- Do yoga and other breathing exercises regularly.
If you suffer from a mental health condition, including depression and anxiety, taking antidepressants may help you reduce the frequency of dreams, which diminishes sleep paralysis.
How Online Therapy Will Help You to Overcome Sleep Paralysis?
The first thing you need to do to treat sleep paralysis is talked to a doctor to help you identify any underlying problems contributing to the severity or frequency of episodes. For instance, the doctor may suggest treatment for sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
Since sleep paralysis is a frightening experience for many individuals, not everyone feels comfortable talking about it. People keep their fears to themselves as they feel ashamed to speak with their regular doctor about them. This is where online therapy shows as a perfect solution.
You can share your problems and concerns about sleep paralysis with your online doctor without leaving your home. Moreover, you can call and talk to your online expert immediately after you experience an episode, 24/7. In some cases, and with your approval, your online doctor may record you with the PC camera while you sleep.
Online therapy covers open conversations about your deepest secrets and the scariest dreams. You can use a range of services to improve your condition and prevent difficult episodes.
Best Online Therapy Services
Various online therapy services can help you deal with your sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression, which can prevent sleep paralysis. These services are a bridge between specialists and tons of resources and you.
Millions of people can’t visit a doctor to talk about their fears, anxiety, and sleep paralysis due to their finances, location, and tight schedule. Many of them feel ashamed to reveal their sleep paralysis episodes, too.
Luckily, online therapy services have strong privacy policies, and they will never reveal your identity to anyone. Moreover, they offer various ways of communication, from video chat to messaging and phone calls.
Here are some of the best online therapy services that will help you prevent sleep paralysis episodes and teach you the key causes of this condition:
- Teen Counseling: Best for teens;
- Online-Therapy.com: Best for cognitive-behavioral therapy;
- Brightside: Best for anxiety and depression;
- BetterHelp: Best online treatment for sleep disorders;
- Talkspace: Best online counseling overall.
You can choose the online therapy service that matches your needs the best. However, no matter which online therapy you pick, you must have open communication with your therapist to get the results you want.
You don’t need to be afraid of sleep paralysis demons. If you experience sleep paralysis quite often, you should take a few steps to regain control of your sleeping habits.
Reduce stress and get enough sleep regularly, and you will start noticing the benefits in no time. In addition, avoid sleeping on your back and test some new sleeping positions.
If you continue experiencing sleep paralysis episodes after making all needed changes, consult your regular or your online doctor to help you deal with the condition and get a quality night’s sleep.