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What is Sleep Paralysis?

Have you ever experienced being alert and seemingly awake in your dreams but are unable to move or make a sound while a terrifying hallucination takes over? As scary as it might seem, this is a legitimate concern for many.

Sleep paralysis is when your body cannot move while you are in a lucid dreaming state. While it is possible to wake up while still paralyzed, the hallucinations become more vivid and scary.

What is the Science Behind Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is characterized by atonia. This is a sudden but brief loss of muscle control. It often occurs when it a person is experiencing hallucinations during deep sleep.

In a more scientific sense, sleep paralysis is categorized as a type of parasomnia. These are abnormal sleeping patterns associated with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. Sleep paralysis is considered to be a kind of REM parasomnia.

Regular REM involves lucid dreaming as well as atonia. This prevents you from acting out while you are dreaming, but under normal circumstances, atonia ends when you wake up. During sleep paralysis, you experience a mixed state of consciousness that blends with wakefulness and REM. (Source: Sleep Foundation)

Are There Different Kinds of Sleep Paralysis?

There are two ways medical literature categorizes sleep paralysis:

Isolated Sleep Paralysis

Where the episodes are not connected to a diagnosis of narcolepsy. This neurological disorder stops the brain from controlling the body’s wakefulness.

Recurrent Sleep Paralysis

On the other hand, recurrent sleep paralysis involves multiple episodes over a period of time.

Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis (RISP)

Most cases are a combination of the two types, which involves ongoing episodes of sleep paralysis in an individual who is not experiencing or has been diagnosed with narcolepsy.

(Source: Sleep Foundation)

What Does Sleep Paralysis Feel Like?

One of the basic symptoms of sleep paralysis is atonia. As mentioned, it occurs suddenly but shortly after falling asleep or waking up. When atonia happens when falling asleep during a vivid dream, this is termed hypnagogic hallucinations. Upon waking up, this is called hypnopompic hallucinations.

There are three types of hallucinations one can experience with sleep paralysis; intruder hallucinations, chest pressure hallucinations, and vestibular-motor hallucinations.

The perception of these hallucinations is often based on the individual’s cultural context. A single episode can last anywhere from a few seconds up to 20 minutes. (Source: Sleep Foundation)

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Several studies have been conducted to find out what causes sleep paralysis, but it is still unknown. Data gathered from people who are deemed to be at a higher risk of experiencing sleep paralysis showed mixed results. Researchers concluded that multiple factors could provoke sleep paralysis.

According to other studies, sleep paralysis is familiar with certain family members or relatives, but no genetic basis exists. (Source: Sleep Foundation)

Is There Any Treatment of Sleep Paralysis?

If you are experiencing sleep paralysis and it is already affecting your overall health, it might be best to seek help from a medical professional. This way, you can identify the problem and address the underlying issues contributing to the problem.

Since sleep paralysis is often connected to general sleeping problems, it would be helpful to improve your sleep hygiene. (Source: Sleep Foundation)

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