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Do You Suffer from Sleep Paralysis?

Posted On June 9, 2014
Sleep paralysis
June 09, 2014

Why, oh why do you keep having the same dream in which you are starring in a remake of Hitchcock’s “The Birds?” Birds are flying every which way. Attacking your head, arms, legs and even your eyes! You try swatting them away but you can’t move a muscle. Nothing works, and then you wake up from this horror only to realize that you still can’t move. A tried and true nightmare asleep and awake. What could this mean? Could you be suffering from sleep paralysis?


What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is characterized by the inability to move your body and its various parts when waking up from sleep or even falling asleep. If paralysis occurs while you are asleep it is known as hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis. And if paralysis occurs when you are falling sleep it is known as hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. From partial to complete paralysis of muscles, this sleep disorder tends to run in families. The actual paralysis can be brief or last for a couple of minutes, and usually resolves with a touch or sound. In addition, a person might only experience sleep paralysis once in his or her lifetime, or be plagued with frequent bouts of not being able to move a muscle. For some, sleep paralysis can even occur multiple times during the course of one night.

For the most part, sleep paralysis is not a harmful condition but it does elicit fear and then some. And unfortunately, there can be instances in which the paralysis is accompanied by hallucinations. Sufferers have described the sensation that they feel as though there is a person in their bedroom, and an overwhelming belief that their death is imminent. This symptom description has been coined the “Hag Phenomena.”

Historically, there was some speculation that sleep paralysis affected people due to supernatural phenomenon. Think about how frightening it would be to wake up and not be able to move any muscle in your body. You might even be worried that you are having a stroke. People with sleep paralysis can also have other sleep disorders at the same time, such as narcolepsy. But in reality, only about 8 percent of the general population suffers from sleep paralysis on a regular basis with closer to 25 percent experiencing this scary happening at least once.


Why Does Sleep Paralysis Occur?

It is believed that sleep paralysis occurs due to the body and brain being out of sync with regard to sleep. A study discovered an issue with rapid eye movement (REM), which is the stage of sleep when the body is at its most relaxed.  Hence, relaxation is more apt to morph into a state of paralysis.


In the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers published the finding that two substances, GABA and glycine were responsible for the paralysis of muscles during REM and sleep. This is the stage of our sleep when dreams are most intense and vivid. The release of these substances, causing the paralysis, is a safety mechanism so that we do not act out our dreams.


Can Sleep Paralysis be Prevented?

Believe it or not, stress can decrease the incidence of sleep paralysis. Practicing sound sleep hygiene techniques can also combat the problem. If the frequency of sleep paralysis episodes is high, medication by a physician can be prescribed.


If you are having trouble sleeping for whatever reason, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.




About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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