Have you ever felt like you were awake but unable to move? You might have even felt afraid but could not call for help? This condition is called sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis may leave you feeling frightened, especially if you also see or hear things that aren’t really there. Sleep paralysis may happen only once, or you may have it frequently — even several times a night.
The good news: sleep paralysis is not considered a dangerous health problem. Read on to find out more about sleep paralysis, its possible causes, and its treatment.
Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move or speak that happens when you are waking up or, less commonly, falling asleep.
Although you are awake, your body is briefly paralysed, after which you can move and speak as normal. The paralysis can last from a few seconds to several minutes.
Sleep paralysis does not cause you any harm, but being unable to move can be very frightening.
Some people have sleep paralysis once or twice in their life, while others experience it a few times a month or more regularly.
What causes sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is caused when hormones produced by the body to help you sleep do not wear off as you wake up.
This means that you remain temporarily paralysed but conscious.
It is normal for your muscles to be paralysed at certain times when you are asleep. Sleep paralysis occurs when the mechanism that causes your muscles to relax during sleep temporarily persists after you have woken up.
Sleep paralysis can sometimes be a symptom ofnarcolepsy. This is a relatively rare sleep disorder that causes a person to fall asleep suddenly and unexpectedly, disrupting their normal sleep pattern.
Other things that increase your risk of sleep paralysis include:
- age – it is more common in teenagers and young adults
- sleep deprivation – sleep paralysis is more common in people who do not get enough sleep
- irregular sleeping patterns – people with irregular schedules or who work shifts are more prone to sleep paralysis
- narcolepsy – some people with narcolepsy (a sleep disorder where you suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times) also experience sleep paralysis
- family history – you may be more likely to have sleep paralysis if another member of your family also has it; however, this is an area where further research is needed
Treating sleep paralysis
The symptoms of sleep paralysis can often be improved by altering your sleep habits and sleeping environment.
Sleep paralysis often affects people who are sleep deprived, so ensuring you get enough sleep may reduce the number of episodes you have. Most adults need 6-8 hours of sleep each night.
Going to bed at roughly the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning may also help.
- creating a restful sleeping environment that is quiet, dark and not too hot or cold
- ensuring your bed is comfortable
- exercising regularly (but not too close to bedtime)
- cutting down on caffeine
- not eating or drinking alcohol before bedtime
- giving up smoking (if you smoke) because nicotine is a stimulant
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