What Is Sleep Paralysis? Types, Risk Factors, And Treatments

Sleep paralysis is medically defined as a state of being conscious but unable to move, speak, or react. Episodes usually last for about 1-2 mins and are often said to occur when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. Treatments that can help combat the condition include improving your sleep habits and avoiding caffeine or alcohol before sleeping.

If you have ever woken up and felt like you couldn’t move, then congratulations (well, not really)! You have experienced sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is medically defined as a state of being conscious but unable to physically move any part of your body. This usually happens when there is a little miscommunication between the phases of sleep and waking up.

Those who have experienced it consider it to be an extremely frightening experience. This is because they are consciously awake and mentally aware of their surroundings, but their body is still asleep, and they have no voluntary control over bodily movements.

Although it sounds strange, this condition is quite common and does not harm your body or mean that there is anything seriously wrong with you.

What Are The Types Of Sleep Paralysis?

When we fall asleep, our minds and bodies are both super relaxed and slowly become less aware of their environment.

  1. Hypnagogic Phase

When we experience this phase, the paralysis that happens before we fall asleep, the mind is consciously aware of what’s going on; however, the body is still in an unconscious state of relaxation. So no matter what the person does or is consciously awake for, they will be unable to move their body, resulting in panic.

  1. Hypnopompic Phase

This phase is the paralysis that happens after the person wakes up from rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, the person is in deep sleep and dreaming, for which the brain paralyzes the muscles so that we don’t act on our dreams, almost like tying our body up subconsciously.

Here, you are conscious, may possibly see your dreams unravel in front of you, but will not have any conscious control on your own movements. It is a terrifying experience if you are having a nightmare and can’t move a muscle to dodge what’s in front of you.

In hypnopompic sleep paralysis, a part of your brain wakes up, but the part that is responsible for REM sleep and the muscle’s paralysis is still asleep.

Who Is More Susceptible To Sleep Paralysis?

You are more likely to experience sleep paralysis if the following factors apply to you:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Stress
  • Inconsistent sleep timings
  • Lack of deep sleep or previous cases of insomnia
  • Sleeping on your back and not your side
  • Bipolar and related mental disorders
  • Sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy (random and involuntary phases of deep sleep), or even nighttime leg cramps
  • Use of medicines, especially those to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

On average, people experience sleep paralysis only around one to two times in their lives. But some experience it close to few times a month!

A study by Penn State University found that around 8% of the population who had frequent sleep paralysis issues also suffered from mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and sleep apnea (short-term inability to breathe while asleep) and were also more vulnerable to experiencing it.

What Are The Advised Treatments?

Since this condition is triggered naturally by the body, there is no proper medication for the treatment. But if a doctor does find a source of the frequent sleep paralysis, here are some usually advised treatments:

  • Providing you with a consistent sleep schedule
  • Prescription anti-depressants
  • Sleeping pills
  • Counseling with a mental health professional
  • Treatment for any possible sleep disorders

Some Remedies You Can Try On Your Own

  • Getting an adequate amount of sleep
  • Making sure you get good quality sleep by taking measures to de-stress yourself before going to bed
  • Not depriving yourself of sleep, as a missed day of good sleep is said to be a trigger
  • Reducing caffeine, alcohol, and drug consumption
  • Restricting smoking
  • Switching off or keeping electronic devices away from you at least half an hour before sleeping
  • Drinking some warm turmeric and honey milk or warm lemon water before going to sleep, as options for relaxing and sleep-inducing beverages

In case you do experience sleep paralysis despite all of the measures taken, remember to just stay calm, focus on your breathing, lie back down later, relax, and remember that it will always pass.

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