What is Sleep Paralysis?

Many people suffer from varying types of sleep issues. Whether dealing with sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, sleepwalking, or another sleep issue, these disorders can have an unfortunate impact on a person’s life. Another frightening sleep issue that a person might deal with is sleep paralysis. On this page, I will discuss sleep paralysis in more detail. If you or a loved one face this issue, you should seek help from a doctor as soon as possible.

Defining Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is essentially what it sounds like. It is the inability for a person to move when they are falling asleep or waking up. It results from a disconnection between the brain and the body that starts too early. It is normal for the brain and the body to disconnect when a person goes into REM sleep, but if this disconnection occurs before a person enters REM sleep, it can be very disconcerting for the person facing this issue.

If a person experiences sleep paralysis while they are trying to fall asleep, this is referred to as predormital sleep paralysis. Another name for it is hypnagogic sleep paralysis. When this issue occurs as a person is trying to wake up, it is referred to as postdormital sleep paralysis. Another name for this issue is hypnopompic sleep paralysis.

People experiencing this type of paralysis might find that they cannot move or speak. A person might also feel like they are choking. While symptoms of sleep paralysis generally go away (once someone fully falls asleep or wakes up), it can be a very frightening experience. It can also be dangerous in the event of an emergency. If there is a fire or a person needs to get out of the house for some other reason, they could face a serious issue.

Causes of Sleep Paralysis

This issue can come on at any time. For some, it is noticed at an early age, but it can also be diagnosed in adults. Other factors that might increase the chances of this issue include:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Mental health issues such as bipolar disorder
  • Sleeplessness
  • Disruptions in REM sleep
  • A sudden change in sleep schedule
  • Substance abuse
  • Using some types of medication
  • Other sleep issues, such as insomnia or narcolepsy
  • Brain injury

If you or a loved one face one or more of these common causes, be on the lookout for this issue.

Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a physical issue, but it can also have mental manifestations. Some common symptoms include:

  • A person’s inability to move their body
  • Inability to speak
  • Feeling like you are choking
  • Feeling like you are levitating
  • Having a feeling of terror
  • Hallucinations of intruders in the room

If you notice these symptoms, you should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect that you or a loved one has this issue, you should go to a doctor. Explain to them the symptoms, and a doctor will be able to make a diagnosis.

A doctor might ask you to keep a sleep diary to assist with a diagnosis. They should ask about your sleeping history and if you have ever had sleep disorders or issues in the past. A doctor also might refer you to a sleep specialist for further review. A sleep specialist might want to do an overnight sleep study to observe your sleep habits. All of these factors might help in the diagnosis of this issue or some other type of sleep injury.

For many people, there is no need to treat this issue itself. A doctor might try to treat underlying issues that lead to sleep paralysis, such as the causes mentioned above. For example, a doctor might work with you to improve your sleep habits. Making sure that you get enough sleep can help reduce sleep paralysis. A doctor also might try to treat any mental health issues that you have if that is contributing to the sleep paralysis. Treatment might include medication, therapy, or stress management.

If your loved one has this issue, you can help them overcome it. Help them establish a solid sleep routine and assist them if they experience sleep paralysis at night. For more information and resources, you can contact my office.

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