If you've ever suffered an episode of sleep paralysis, you' know how terrifying it can be while it's happening, but in reality, it's a harmless stage of dawning consciousness in between sleep cycles.
Sleep paralysis is basically a few moments in time, during your normal sleep cycle, when your consciousness suddenly becomes aware while the rest of your body is still relaxed for sleep. During these moments in time, you may be unable to physically move.
You'll feel like you're awake, and you may try to turn over or rise from your bed, but your body simply hasn't received the message yet. And while it might feel like it goes on forever, most episodes of sleep paralysis last only seconds or maybe minutes. Many who've had a bout of sleep paralysis say they feel like they're waking up paralyzed, and indeed, that's an apt description for this condition that affects around 4 out of every 10 people.
Nightmare sleep paralysis can be even more terrifying. This condition combines sleep paralysis with nightmares. You may feel like you're awake and unable to move while terrible things are happening around you. Some have said they feel like an intruder is breaking into their home; others have noted that it felt as though they were being attacked. No one really knows what causes nightmares and sleep paralysis to mesh, but if you've ever experienced it -- and odds are good that you will at some point in your life -- it's not something you're liable to forget easily.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Experts think that sleep paralysis can be caused by a number of contributing factors, including:
- Not getting enough sleep each night
- Experiencing high stress
- Sudden changes in your sleep schedule
- Leg cramps
Sleep paralysis can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as stimulants. It can also be an indicator of some type of mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder. In most instances, however, sleep paralysis is simply that -- a few moments in time when your brain wakes up before the rest of your body follows. And it's rarely something that you need to worry about.
What Are the Sleep Paralysis Symptoms?
Unfortunately, until the moment it happens, there really aren't any symptoms to alert you to the fact that you might be about to have an episode of sleep paralysis. During the actual event, you may feel panicky, scared or helpless. You'll be unable to lift your arms or legs, or move your head from side to side. You may feel as though you've woken up dead. It sounds terrifying, and in fact, it can be. But if you're aware of what it is beforehand, you'll be better able to manage it.
What Can Be Done About Sleep Paralysis?
If you suffer from frequent bouts of sleep paralysis, talk with your primary care provider. He or she may have suggestions on how to avoid waking up in this condition. Getting more sleep on a regular basis may help. Medication may prove helpful as well.
The important thing to remember about sleep paralysis is that it's fleeting and mostly harmless. If you can remember to tell yourself this the next time it happens, it will go a long way toward taking the terror out of nighttime.