Have you ever awakened from sleep with the feeling that you could not move or speak? Ever feel like there is another presence in the room –one that should not be there, but you cannot move or speak to call it out? If so, you may have experienced a condition that is known as sleep paralysis.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine waking up in your bed in what appears to be your bedroom. You can see your bedroom window. You can hear faint garbled sounds in the distance. Are you awake, or is it a dream? Despite being convinced that you are awake, this in-between state of wakefulness and sleep leave you in a world that lies between panic and fear.
The fact is, you are awake, but your body has not yet received the message. You cannot move your hands, fingers, legs, feet…not a single muscle in your body. What’s worse? You cannot even seem to make a simple sound, yet you sense something or someone you don’t recognize is in your bedroom with you. A sense of dread and doom easily creep into your mind as several seconds, feeling more like minutes pass.
This is the feeling that millions of sufferers experience with sleep paralysis.
Image Source: Bigstock Photo/Yastremska
Commonly referred to as 'Old Hag Syndrome, sleep paralysis can often leave you with the distinct sense that someone or something is present in the room. You cannot see it, but rather a sixth sense tells you that something else is standing over you, watching you or waiting for you to move. Some sufferers have even reported feeling this presence sitting on the bed or standing just behind them. Others report the sense that it's sitting on their chests, making it difficult to breathe or move.
Other experiences associated with the sleep paralysis events may include sounds like buzzing or even garbled voices. Some have also reported a feeling of floating up out of their body and looking down at their own body sleeping. While not everyone experiences the feeling of floating out of their body, many do confirm the inability to move and the inability to speak, and the sense of another presence in the room. It is a disturbing feeling.
Some cultures believe that this phenomenon directly results from a spiritual or demonic presence, while science says --no, wait, not so fast.
Sleep paralysis typically begins for most during their adolescence and follows them throughout adulthood. It typically occurs as the body is entering the REM cycle of sleep when the body immobilizes or enters a paralyzed state of sorts as a precaution to protect the body and us from acting out in our sleep due to dreams. However, when one suddenly awakens from REM sleep, the body does not have time to emerge from this paralyzed state.
Research has shown that those most prone to these sleep paralysis events also suffer from a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. In addition, it seems that sleep paralysis events are heightened when the sufferer experiences sleep deprivation. Other factors that may precipitate an event include over-eating before bedtime, sleeping on your back, stress, fatigue, and poor circulation.
If you have sleep paralysis, you can take a few steps to prevent or fight against it. Not every approach will work for every case of sleep paralysis. However, one or more of these tips just might be the strategy you need to deploy to get you through the next event.
Your instinct, when you first awaken, might be to jump up and shake off that haunting feeling of someone or something being in the room with you. Unfortunately, your body will likely not allow you to do this during an SP event. Remember, your arms and legs will likely feel like dead weight. Instead of trying to move your entire body, focus on moving a finger or a toe. Your goal is to start with a small muscle, then gradually move to larger muscles like your hand. After moving your hand, try moving your arm.
It will feel like you are moving painstakingly slow. In reality, you will feel the rest of your body rapidly awakening. Do not give in to the desire to move all muscles at once.
Your impulse might be to try to speak when you initially realize that you are in a sleep paralysis episodic event. However, your ability to string together a sentence will be extremely impaired. Instead, try saying one or two words to either talk yourself through the experience or to communicate with others who might be nearby.
It can be frustrating to you if your significant other (SO) misses cues that you are experiencing SP and it can be scary for your significant other if they actually witness the event without knowing what is happening. Your job is to help them to understand recognize the signs that you might be having an SP event. Talk with your SO about physical signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for should they occur.
For example, if you have a tendency to scream or make loud incoherent noises initially, let them know that. If you have a tendency to just stare and not make any noises, consider coming up with a code word or question your mate can say to you, to help gleam you are having an SP episode.
Do I need to take sleep paralysis medicine for relief? If your sleep paralysis is severe enough, it may warrant medical intervention in the form of medication. You may receive a prescription for antidepressant medications such as imipramine or clomipramine. Also, your primary care provider may refer you to a sleep clinic, where a specialist may order a sleep study to evaluate the quality of sleep you are getting each night.
Get your sleep habits in check. Sleep hygiene plays a significant role in the consistent occurrence of sleep disorders like sleep paralysis. Ideally, you will want to create a sleep chamber that allows for an environment that is comfortable, cool, and free of noise and light.
Next, put away your electronic devices before bedtime. Sleep paralysis often emerges as a result of fatigue and exhaustion. It can be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep at night whether the result of staying up too late or waking up after only receiving a few hours of sleep. You should aim to get six to eight hours of sleep each night.
Invest in a pillow with cooling technology and memory foam and a mattress to help keep your body temperature at a level that is conducive to a good night's rest.
Finally, another treatment option is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This approach can be useful in helping you address the behaviors or thoughts that prevent you from getting sleep. Unfortunately, our minds or the actions we take can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you rid yourself of those negative thoughts or worries that invade your mind and keep you up late at night and into the wee hours of the morning.
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