A Waking Nightmare: What You Need to Know About Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a broad term used to encompass a variety of symptoms, but it is most commonly used to describe the experience of full or partial body paralysis while waking up or drifting into sleep. In some cases, sleep paralysis can also cause hallucinations, a sense of fear and dread, and a crushing or weighted pressure on your chest. You may have never personally experienced sleep paralysis, but many sufferers have shared horror stories that would rival iconic thrillers.

Learn about how sleep paralysis occurs, and what you can do to prevent it.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

During deep sleep, your body and brain slow down so that they can repair themselves. Once you enter the REM cycle of sleep, your body will speed up again, and you will begin to have vivid dreams. This cycle lasts about two hours, and repeats several times throughout the night.

When your body enters REM sleep the brain shuts down certain neurotransmitters, lulling your body into a state of paralysis. In this stage of the sleep cycle the body can’t move or act out dream activity, as this would be physically dangerous. Typically, the paralysis subsides before a person awakens. However, if a person is suffering from sleep paralysis, the sleep cycle will be out of sync. A person may become conscious while their body is still paralyzed, unable to move for the duration of their REM cycle. In some cases, this can cause severe hallucinations as a person struggles to break the paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is a common symptom of narcolepsy, although experiencing sleep paralysis does not indicate that you are narcoleptic.

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis stems from a variety of causes, not all of which are related. These causes can include a medical condition such as another sleep disorder, medication use, a mental health issue, or substance abuse. Any of these issues, or a combination of them, can cause sleep paralysis. Even temporary factors, such as restless sleep or a rotating sleep schedule, can increase your risk for sleep paralysis.

If you feel that you are suffering from sleep paralysis, schedule an appointment with Dr. Shukla today to conduct a sleep study.

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