Sleep Paralysis 101: What is it and How to Avoid

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Have you ever woken up from sleep feeling like your mind was awake but your body was not? You try to move your arms and legs, and you find that you can’t. You try to open your mouth to speak, and you find that you are also unable to move your mouth to speak. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you may be part of the 40 percent of adults that have experienced what is known as sleep paralysis. While this situation is incredibly scary and jarring, experts agree that sleep paralysis is mostly benign and rarely linked to more serious underlying issues. For a more in-depth look at what sleep paralysis is and how you can avoid it in the future, read on.

So What is Sleep Paralysis?

Researchers largely agree that sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs as your body is transitioning between stages of sleep. For one reason or another, your body is not making the smooth, seamless transition between sleep stages like it typically might. Sleep paralysis either occurs when you are falling asleep, known as hypnagogic sleep paralysis, or when you are waking up, known as hypnopompic sleep paralysis. Depending on the stage of sleep we are in, our muscles may be “switched” on or off. For example, as we move into REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, during our sleep cycle, our body’s muscles are naturally switched off, not dissimilar to being paralyzed. If you awake abruptly during REM sleep, you may experience a bout of hypnopompic sleep paralysis, as your mind is conscious but your body has not yet caught up. Most sleep paralysis experiences last from seconds to minutes in duration. It can be scary and alarming and feel much longer than its actual duration, especially as some individuals feel as though they are choking or feel pressure on their chests when sleep paralysis is occurring.

Causes of Sleep Paralysis

The development of sleep paralysis often occurs in the teenage years, though individuals of any age can experience sleep paralysis for the first time. Though there may be a genetic component tied to the development of sleep paralysis, other factors including high stress, changing of sleep pattern, certain mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, other sleep problems such as narcolepsy, sleeping on one’s back, substance abuse, and certain medications such as those used to treat ADHD symptoms may influence experiencing sleep paralysis. Many cases of sleep paralysis are isolated incident and, consequently, do not require treatment. Check out the tips below to help avoid sleep paralysis in the future.

How to Avoid Sleep Paralysis

Perhaps the best way to avoid sleep paralysis is to improve your healthy sleep habits. Because sleep paralysis often happens when we are out of our usual sleeping routines, working to establish better sleep habits such as aiming for six to eight hours of sleep per night can help stave off sleep paralysis episodes. Additionally, establishing a bedtime routine can help your body prepare for a restful night of sleep. Try to get to sleep and wake up at a specific time (plus or minus about thirty minutes) each day of the week to help train your body. Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake from 3:00 in the afternoon onward may decrease frequent waking associated with sleep paralysis. Creating an optimal sleep environment full of high quality bedding materials as well as keeping your room around 67 degrees Fahrenheit promotes sleep. Work to manage your stress during the day through exercise, meditation, breathing, journaling, and more to prevent it from affecting your sleep at night. Lastly, if you have underlying disorders that you are being treated for such as mental health disorders or sleep disorders that may be affecting sleep paralysis, make sure that you follow up with your healthcare provider and comply with treatment to decrease experiencing additional episodes of sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis can be debilitating and frightening, but it is oftentimes not a condition that is a cause for concern. Many episodes are singular and may not reoccur. Take steps to control stress during the day and establish health sleep habits at night to avoid experiencing sleep paralysis in the future.