What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Find out what causes sleep paralysis, how it works, and what you can do about it if it happens to you.
What causes sleep paralysis can be a difficult question to answer. The causes of sleep paralysis can be different for everyone. One of the most prominent causes of sleep paralysis is lack of sleep. Changes in your schedule, stress and several other factors can contribute.
Some people are more at risk for experiencing sleep paralysis than others. People with mental health disorders, such as being bipolar or having PTSD, have an increased risk. Having other sleep conditions, like narcolepsy or chronic insomnia can also increase your chances.
People who experience it often want to find out how to stop it from happening, because of scary it can be. If you haven’t been through it, here’s a quick rundown.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
You wake up in the middle of the night. You open your eyes and are suddenly overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of fear. The fear worsens as you start to envision an unidentified intruder in your room. You try to call out but you can’t speak. You attempt to run but can’t move.
The entire scenario sounds scary because frankly, it is. Many people report it as being terrifying, which makes getting restful sleep a nightly challenge. This brings us to how to spot the symptoms of sleep paralysis. Find out of you have it, and what you can do about it if you do.
Sleep Paralysis Symptoms
The symptoms of sleep paralysis can vary from person to person. This can sometimes make diagnosing it a challenge.
- Strong sense of fear
- Experiencing weightlessness or floating
- Being unable to move in bed
- Pressure on the chest
- An “out of body” experience
If you experience any of these symptoms then you should see your doctor or a sleep specialist.
What Happens During Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia. The term parasomnia is used by sleep professionals to describe any behavior that is abnormal during sleep. This includes feeling paralyzed while sleeping, which happens in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.
When we are in REM sleep, our bodies naturally experience atonia. This is a type of temporary paralysis. We do this to prevent us from acting out dreams while we sleep. It normally only happens while we’re sound asleep so we don’t even realize it happens.
Is it Normal to Have Sleep Paralysis?
Yes, experiencing episodes of sleep paralysis is perfectly normal. Surveys from the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center report that 40% of people surveyed have experienced it sometime during their lives. Globally, this sleep condition affects 7% of the world population. That means that almost one out of every ten people will experience an episode of sleep paralysis at some point during their life.
What Are The Two Types of Sleep Paralysis?
According to sleep professionals, there are two categories of sleep paralysis. Episodes that are not linked to any other sleep conditions are considered isolated. They are the most common, happen only once or twice, and although they may return, they usually go away quickly on their own without intervention. The second type is considered recurrent. This is when people experience multiple episodes on a regular basis. Episodes in both categories are often accompanied by hallucinations.
The 3 Kinds of Sleep Paralysis Hallucinations
Hallucinations are what make this sleep disorder such a terrifying one. Hallucinations vary between individuals. They are usually categorized into one of three kinds.
- Intruder Hallucinations: These are when hallucinations feel as though there is a person, creature, or other entity in your room that wants to cause you harm. These are some of the most terrifying types of episodes.
- Chest Pressure Hallucinations: This is when people feel pressure on their chest. It often makes people feel as though they’re being suffocated. They’re sometimes referred to as incubus hallucinations and they usually happen simultaneously as intruder hallucinations.
- Vestibular-motor (V-M) Hallucinations: Considered the least scary, V-M hallucinations usually involve feelings of floating, flying, or having an out-of-body experience.
A Global Phenomenon
These types of hallucinations have happened to people in every country around the world. This has made it somewhat of a global phenomenon and many cultures have their own folklorish explanations for why it happens.
- United States - People in the U.S. have often attributed the effects of sleep paralysis to possible alien abductions.
- China - China has a term for sleep paralysis that roughly translates to Ghost Oppression.
- Japan - Japanese culture refers to episodes of sleep paralysis being caused by a Buddhist deity called Fudoh-Myohoh.
- Egypt - Egyptians have referred to it as being an attack by a jinn, which is an evil genie often mentioned in folklore.
- Newfoundland - The term for it in Newfoundland describes the experience being caused by an old which, and is sometimes referred to as the old hag phenomenon
Is Sleep Paralysis Fatal?
No. Sleep paralysis is not fatal. It can be horrifying to experience though. You may even be so afraid that you feel like you’re going to die, but you won’t. It’s just a sleep disorder that can go away by finding the right solution for your situation. Only about 10% of people who experience it have recurring episodes, so chances are, they will go away on their own.
How Do You Get Out of Sleep Paralysis?
There is no bonafide way to get out of an episode once it’s happening. The best thing you can do is try to remain calm. This is much easier said than done, but it is possible. Try to focus on breathing. Knowing a few breath techniques can be a lifesaver in these types of stressful situations. However, you’re much better off trying to prevent them from happening, which we’ll get into soon.
Can You Wake Someone Up From Sleep Paralysis?
Most of the time, you aren’t going to be able to wake someone up if they’re going through an episode. There’s a slight chance you may, but it’s not recommended considering the state of fear they may be experiencing. If you find your loved one going through an episode, it’s best to wait it out. They may fall back asleep, or you can be there to comfort them when they fully wake.
How to Prevent Sleep Paralysis
As we mentioned earlier, trying to prevent episodes from occurring is your best bet. Creating healthy sleep habits will not only help prevent sleep paralysis but will also positively impact several other aspects of your personal health. Now, there is a very long list of healthy sleep habits you can incorporate to get better sleep. To save you the trouble, we sifted through the pile to bring you the top five ways to prevent sleep paralysis.
Top 5 Ways to Prevent Sleep Paralysis
1. Get The Right Number of Hours of Sleep
Since sleep deprivation is the most common cause of sleep paralysis, it’s important to get the right number of hours of sleep each night. This number is different for everyone but is generally about eight hours of sleep for most adults.
2. Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine can be a killer of healthy sleep for many people. Not getting enough sleep sets off a domino effect of short and long-term health problems. Cutting back on your caffeine can be a great place to start if you’re trying to get more sleep.
3. Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption
Substance abuse, including alcohol, has been linked as a contributing factor to increased sleep paralysis risk. If you’re big on the booze, consider reducing the number of drinks you have, or stop drinking completely. Doing either will help you get better sleep.
4. Get Physically Active Every Day
Exercise and physical activity are some of the best prescriptions for sleep disorders. It’s easy to get a good night’s sleep when you’re physically tired from the day. Whether that means hitting the gym, going on a walk, or getting busy in the garden, being physically active will help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.
5. Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Consistent bedtime routines are the foundation of healthy sleep habits. Setting a designated bedtime each night and sticking to it is the first step in creating a good routine. Turning off screens, avoiding blue light, and creating a relaxing atmosphere are great ways to encourage healthy sleep before you even get into bed.
Whether you do one or a combination of the tips above, you’re much more likely to get better sleep. Getting better sleep is going to reduce your chances of experiencing sleep paralysis. Some other tips for getting better sleep are to have the right mattress, pillows, and blankets to create a comfortable sleep environment.
If you’re interested in learning more about this sleep disorder, check out these 20 Interesting Facts About Sleep Paralysis. It has a lot of great facts that we didn’t cover in this article. Until next time, happy sleeping!