Manage Sleep Paralysis

Edited by Nerissa Avisado, Graeme, Eng, Lynn and 1 other

Have you ever experienced being paralyzed in your sleep just when your consciousness is drifting between being awake and nothingness? You may feel that your eyes and ears, and other senses are truly alive, yet the rest of your body is totally unable to move. At worst, you may even feel some pressure or heaviness on your chest. Some sleepers have even reported a paranormal experience or hallucination accompanying the sensation. This isn't something you'd look forward to experiencing.

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Unfortunately, this is common, and almost every person will experience it at least once in his or her life. If there is one thing you can do to control the frequency of these events, it is to learn to manage sleep paralysis.

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About Sleep and Sleep Paralysis

Sleep is a Necessity

Sleep allows the human body the opportunity to repair itself. It is a haven that human bodies seek to fight off oxidative stress due to free radicals. For growing children, it is the time for growth. It's a way for your subconscious mind to sort out issues. Not having enough sleep or sleep deprivation is unhealthy, and even dangerous, consequences. Yet, for people who experience sleep paralysis - sleep becomes dreaded.

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Sleep Paralysis is Nothing New

Sleep paralysis is not something this generation has just discovered. William Shakespeare cites this sleep phenomenon in Act 1, Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet: "This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs, That presses them, and learns them first to bear, Making them women of good carriage."

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Guy de Maupassant mentions this in his novel Le Horla: I sleep - for a while - two or three hours - then a dream - no - a nightmare seizes me in its grip, I know full well that I am lying down and that I am asleep."

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There is good news - sleep paralysis can be managed and treated. This can be done using several approaches. But you need to start by knowing certain facts.

Sleep Paralysis: Up-close and Personal

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As you retire after a long day of challenges and daily rituals, you look forward to seeing your bedroom and lying down in your comfortable bed. These are preparatory to dozing off to the dreamland where you can fly and live out fantasies. Just as you are teetering on the brink of sleep, when you are still clinging to conscious thoughts, you feel your muscles paralyze (muscle atonia), and you start to feel panic. Who wouldn't? If you are still wondering what sleep paralysis is, this is it.

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You might have experienced this a few times in your life. Is there a need to worry? If it happens rarely, you need not give it much thought. But, if it happens regularly, maybe it is time for you to see your doctor because it can be related to some disorders - narcolepsy, sleep apnea, migraines, and anxiety disorders. But often, it is just a sign of muscle atonia setting in while your mind is still "awake." This is normal as the sleeper passes through the phases or stages of wakefulness and sleep before sleeping or waking up.

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Be comforted by the thought that sleep paralysis is not normally linked to an underlying psychiatric disorder. The knowledge makes a sleeper calmer, which is something you need to be when planning to manage sleep paralysis.

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What You Need to Know About Sleep Paralysis

  1. 1
    Defining "sleep paralysis"
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    This is a sleep phenomenon in which the sleeper feels awake or conscious, but is unable to move. It normally happens when the sleeper drifts between stages of conscious wakefulness and sleep. During this transition, muscle atonia sets in faster than your consciousness drifts off to dreamland. Basically, you body falls asleep before your mind does.
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  2. 2
    Feel the symptoms
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    Sleepers who wake up paralyzed and are overwhelmed by an eerie feelings of the unexplained presence of paranormal prowlers can be mind-blowing. Some cases are like this, accompanied by frightening creatures and the presence of phantoms. Hypnogogia is the term used to describe sleep paralysis with hallucinations. Another symptom is the sensation of heaviness or pressure in the chest area and consequent breathlessness.
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  3. 3
    Who can experience it
    ?
    Believe it or not, kids and teens experience this more often than adults. Maybe it has something to do with their tired, overactive bodies desperately seeking rest and succumbing faster to sleep. With an active mind that is fighting the drowsiness, however, their mind can still be awake. Stats have it that about 6 percent of the population experiences sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime.
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  4. 4
    Know the triggers
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    If this happens more frequently and it really bothers you, keep a journal of the events surrounding these episodes. If you can determine a pattern, you're more likely to be able to avoid these episodes in the future. Some people who succumb to sleep paralysis, experience sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping patterns. In your journal, track:  
    1. What you ate that night.
    2. What you drank that night.
    3. How many hours sleep you got the day before.
    4. What you did that night - where you active or not, had a good night, or night, watch a disturbing movie, etc.
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  5. 5
    Learn the types
    .
    There are two major types of Sleep Paralysis:  
    1. Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis (RISP) is chronic and each episode can last for an hour or so. Sleep paralysis can occur when you are falling asleep (hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis) or when you are waking up (hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis).
    2. Isolated Sleep Paralysis (ISP) is much less common and is largely associated with invaders and incubus hallucinations. Some people believe these are actual experience with the supernatural, and the result of absolute fear.
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Coping and Managing of Sleep Paralysis

Sleeping and dreaming.

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Sleep has a number of cycles. Each is split into non REM sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It's when you are on the verge of REM when sleep paralysis is usually experienced. This is a time when the brain is active, but the muscles of the body are paralyzed (muscle atonia). Dreams occur at this particular stage of sleep. Sleep paralysis can also happen after consciously waking up, but the body is still "asleep." This is temporary, though, inasmuch as the sleep does not automatically wear off upon waking up.

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What to Do During Sleep Paralysis

  1. 1
    Concentrate on making small movements
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    It will be hard to make significant movements during sleep paralysis, so focus on making movements using body parts such as fingers, toes, or your tongue. This can progress to larger movements using your extremities - hands and arms, feet and legs, etc.
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  2. 2
    Try to make eye movements
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    Your eyes are not normally immobilized by sleep paralysis. You can still open your eyes and look around. You may also try moving your eyes fast to interrupt the paralysis.
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  3. 3
    Relax by breathing well
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    You can ask those into Pilates and Yoga; they can certainly assure that controlled breathing is an excellent technique to attain relaxation. If you know how to breathe properly, you stand a good chance of regaining your control over your muscles during a sleep paralysis episode.
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  4. 4
    Envision yourself moving
    .
    You can deliberately induce a sleep-paralysis state. This is done by some people who want to prompt what is referred to as out-of-body experiences. Visualizing your body moving easily may be a more pleasant experience compared to sleep paralysis or hypnogogia.
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Natural Ways to Improve Sleep and Fight Off Sleep Paralysis

It all starts with living a healthy lifestyle.

  1. 1
    Abandon your "couch potato lifestyle"
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    It is time to get off that couch beckoning you to linger a little longer. Stop being couch-bound because this can slow down your metabolism, make you fat and develop a lot of metabolic disorders related to obesity. Eventually, you will be having bad dreams and develop sleep paralysis. Always remember, the systems are all interconnected. You don't need to go religiously to the gym. Just move - take the stairs, walk around your house or office more, or get into a sport.
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  2. 2
    Choose what and how much you eat
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    Everything you put into your mouth affects your body either positively, or negatively. If you want to sleep well, note what can disturb or delay your sleep such as caffeine, alcohol, and too much sugar. Watch out for processed or fast foods that carry tons of fats and sodium. An unhealthy body can affect other organs, systems and processes in the body. These can also deter sleep or give you troubled sleep.
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  3. 3
    "Hit the sack" regularly
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    It has been noted that sleep paralysis happens when the sleeper enters the REM-sleep state early. The likelihood of this ever happening is increased with sleep deprivation and lack of energy. Thus, getting enough sleep is important to diminish instances of sleep paralysis episodes. Maintaining a regular and healthy sleep pattern is key to putting this phenomenon at bay. Insomniacs must train themselves to fall asleep more easily to avoid dreadful episodes.
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  4. 4
    On your side
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    Note that about 60 percent of sleep paralysis episodes occur when the sleeper lies on his back. You want to break this habit? It's easy. Pin a sock or sew a pocket at the back of your sleepwear. In this, insert one or two tennis balls to alert you when moving on your back while asleep. This will prompt you to get back to your side.
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  5. 5
    Fight stress
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    Stress is a recognized trigger that interrupts normal sleep cycles that often contribute to an episode of sleep paralysis. Learn some relaxation techniques to fight stress and anxiety attacks. You can try meditation, listening to music, or even playing with a pet. Experiment on what works for you.
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  6. 6
    Consult a doctor
    .
    If you are bothered by frequent episodes - it's best to consult a professional care provider. You need to find out if you have related health issues that need to be medically attended to.
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Extra Defensive Strategies

  1. 1
    Get it out of your system
    .
    Talk about it with people who care, like family and friends. Venting it or talking about it can create a safe place for friends or family to share similar experiences, and then you'll know you're not alone. This is a common experience; others must have gone through something similar.
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  2. 2
    Write in a journal
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    It is logical to track the details of your experience - the time, your sleep position, sleep pattern, what you were thinking or feeling before sleeping, and when it happened before dozing off to the dreamland or before rousing from sleep. These are same questions your doctor will ask to know your history.
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  3. 3
    Know the triggers
    .
    This sleep phenomenon can be prompted by a variety of triggers. If you are aware what triggers sleep paralysis, you can try shifting sleeping position or asking your doctor for a different kind of medication for your medical condition.
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The major contributors include:

  1. 1
    1. 2
      Stress.
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    2. 3
      A reaction to some medication you are taking.
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    3. 4
      Sleeping on your back
      .
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    4. 5
      A deviation from usual sleep habits.
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Tips, Tricks and Warnings

  • Lose the coffee habit. Caffeine taken five hours before sleep can disturb your normal sleep patterns, which is crucial in triggering sleep problems.
  • Don't over-think. Thinking about night terrors, another term for hypnogogia, can be nerve-wracking. Fight stress, relax, and soon your muscles will "wake up" along with your consciousness.
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  • Ask for a sleep analysis. You can talk to your doctor about it. Maybe sleep apnea is causing you to suffer from episodes of sleep paralysis.
  • Psychological injury. This is a consequence of excessive or frequent sleep paralysis. This is a kind of panic that results from dreadful hypnogogia.
  • Break the episode. When you sense an episode is about to happen, try sitting up and making your body and mind sync. You can take a deep breath, lift your arms and legs, and stare at a bright light briefly. Try to relax your mind and body. There is no need to move a lot; this can even make your paralysis and chest pressure increase.
  • Positive thoughts. Before going to sleep, breath deeply. Clear your mind of sad or disturbing thoughts. Find your "happy place".

The worst thing is dreaming while suffering from paralysis. This can be most confusing. This is when you see your bedroom and an intruder in your dream. These sorts of dreams are exceptionally frightening. Just remember, relax and manage your sleep paralysis.

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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

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Categories : Health & Wellness

Recent edits by: Lynn, Eng, Graeme

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