how to stop sleep paralysis? With the on-going pandemic and many people working from home, a good number of us have found company in reading books and watching different movies or series on Netflix and other streaming sites. Why do I mention this? Some of you might have come across the series “Behind Her Eyes” on Netflix. It is an interesting and creepy series at the same time that vividly brings out the topic of lucid dreaming or dream-like hallucinations, which has similarities to my topic of discussion – Sleep Paralysis. This is such a sensitive topic that some people would instantly find unsettling discussing it, but fret not, because at the end of this article, you will learn how to prevent or stop sleep paralysis and finally enjoy that much deserved peaceful sleep.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
So, for those who may or may not understand what sleep paralysis is, let me ask you this; have you ever found yourself unable to talk or make any movements while sleeping or waking up? Or woke up while sleeping with what you felt like were nightmares, but you couldn’t even move your muscles? Or it felt like there was something or someone in the room with you, but you couldn’t do absolutely anything about it?
If you have had any or all these feelings, then you’ve definitely experienced sleep paralysis. It could have happened once, or it could be a regular occurrence that often creeps you out because one is usually mentally alert as all this happens. Sometimes you wonder if you are still dreaming or awake. If you have not experienced that, then now would be a great time to learn about it and avoid habits that would land you in that state.
What Would Trigger Sleep Paralysis?
If you have experienced sleep paralysis, then you understand just how unpleasant an experience it is, and I know you can’t wait to know how to prevent future occurrences or completely get rid of it. And by the way, sleep paralysis is very common and as much as it mostly happens to people who experience narcolepsy, it can happen to anyone, whether healthy or not.
In fact, researchers estimate that between 5 and 40 percent of people experience sleep paralysis.
The exact cause is not yet known but it could happen due to different trigger factors like:
- genetic changes
- sleep deprivation
- Irregular sleep cycles and sleep disorders
- Psychological stress and trauma
- substance use and abuse
- psychiatric illness
Though when it comes to genes, there is no clear scientific evidence that the condition is hereditary.
Social Media and Depression
With the advancement of technology and emergence of social media, many youths happen to own gadgets and are on multiple social media platforms. Some of them practice bad social media habits that make them to be slaves to their gadgets while others find themselves on the receiving end of social media trolls and bullies.
According to a report by HelpGuide organization, approximately 10 percent of teens report being bullied on social media while many other social media users end up receiving negative and demeaning comments.
its just not depression
And it’s not just about depression and anxiety that bad social media habits cause. For some people, social media is what they wake up to and the last thing they check before going to bed. The constant notifications and the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) could impact your concentration and disturb your sleep patterns leading to sleep deprivation.
Sometimes the excessive use of social media could be masking other serious underlying conditions like stress, low self-esteem, depression, and general moodiness. That is why you find some people doing strange and risky things just to gain likes or shares or positive comments.
In a bid to understand the causes and what happens during sleep paralysis, I feel that it would be prudent to talk about the “The Nightmare” documentary which tries to shed a light on the causes of sleep paralysis as explained through the participants’ different experiences.
One of the interviewees vividly narrates her experience:
“It was in the middle of the night, but I was wide awake. I could feel the presence just right behind me and I remember just trying to…wanting to move and turn around, but I could not lift a finger.”
There are many other interviewees who share their different experiences with sleep paralysis, and I would recommend that you watch the documentary for a deeper understanding.
While going through some of the comments that different viewers had left after watching the documentary, some viewers also expressed their unsettling experiences with sleep paralysis.
Check this one below from one of the viewers:
“I experienced this thrice.. Really scary. 1st time happens I woke up and I felt like there are couple of people trying to raise me and holding me all my arms and legs like raising me in a concert.. But when I look at these people they don’t have faces.. I can’t move myself.. Until I can and never slept again. Sometimes the other times it happened to me I wanna shout but all I hear was blabber from my mouth like I had stroke or something. Other time I feel like someone is coming towards me.. Just shadow or silhouette.. Very scary 😫🥺😔😟☹️ ”
Data from a 2018 research by the American Academy of sleep medicine suggested that sleep disorders like dream-like hallucinations and sleep paralysis are associated with depression symptoms and widespread among student athletes.
Participants who had experienced sleep paralysis or hallucinations also reported higher depression scores.
Sleep Paralysis Indicators
The statistics and different scenarios clearly bring out the experiences sleep paralysis victims go through and they don’t seem to be too distant from each other. They all bring out the different sleep paralysis indicators like:
- the feeling that you are being pushed down by something or someone
- the feeling of extreme fear
- difficulty breathing
- feeling like there is something or someone else where you are
- having dream-like hallucinations
What Really happens during sleep paralysis?
As we have mentioned earlier, sleep paralysis occurs either when one is going to sleep or awakening.
Note that, when we are sleeping, there are two parts of every sleep cycle: the rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and the non-REM sleep. During the REM phase, your brain normally paralyzes many of your muscles, a state called “atonia.”
Normally when we sleep, we usually expect to wake up. No one ever expects to undergo sleep paralysis. So, the body MUST go into the Rapid Eye Movement sleep and must come out of it for one to wake up. Now, it is in this process of transition when sleep paralysis takes place when your body is unable to make this transition. If sleep paralysis happens when you’re going to sleep, it is called ‘hypnagogic’ sleep paralysis. But when it happens while one is waking up, it’s called ‘hypnopompic’ sleep paralysis.
When one is dreaming, they are usually in the Rapid Eye Movement sleep phase. During this stage, your body is usually put into a temporary stage of paralysis and this is made possible by a neurotransmitter called glycine. You can still breathe but your body is usually kept still.
So, if you suddenly awaken from REM sleep, you might still be in that temporary stage of paralysis even though you are conscious, meaning that you still won’t be able to move for a period of time, usually several seconds to a few minutes.
In sleep paralysis, the body remains paralyzed while the brain awakens. It is in this state that one usually feels alert, but they are unable to move or shout. Many of the symptoms discussed above exhibit themselves like feeling pressure on the chest, seeing things but can’t do anything about it. Have you ever been in a state of helplessness? This is the part where as much as you want to do something about it, your body just does not allow you.
You know, unlike nightmares where the visuals in your dream happen when you are fully asleep so no total control over them, sleep paralysis happens when you’re mentally awake but still can’t do anything about it. Sounds exhausting and terrifying, right?
Can I hurt Myself?
The whole experience surrounding sleep paralysis sounds so scary and dangerous, but I know you are wondering whether victims could hurt themselves. Sleep paralysis isn’t dangerous, and there is no known bodily injury to the victim’s body. Till date, there haven’t been any deaths recorded due to sleep paralysis.
In fact, it usually ends in a couple of seconds or a few minutes and is not known to cause any physical effects.
Myths and Cultural Beliefs Surrounding Sleep Paralysis
The complexities surrounding sleep paralysis have led to different myths by different cultures around the world, as they try to decipher the meaning behind the whole experience. Though over time, science has tried to debunk these myths, but just like any other complex and confusing topic like the relationship between 5G and Covid-19, one is never satisfied with just science.
Different countries have their own theories surrounding this phenomenon as highlighted below:
- Japan – It is known as ‘kanashibar’ translating to ‘bound up with metal’.
- USA – It is alluded to alien abductions.
- China – It is known as ‘ghost oppression’.
- Mexico – It is interpreted as “a dead body climbed on top of me.”
- Africa – It is alluded to the ‘devil riding your back’ where demons have sex with people in their sleep. They are known as ‘Incubus’ or ‘Succubus’!
- Cambodia – It is associated with a spiritual attack.
Prevention and Treatment
Preventing and treating sleep paralysis involves looking at the symptoms that trigger it and dealing with them. Most of the time, it’s got to do with changing our lifestyle and some bad habits that interfere with our physical and mental wellbeing.
- For those of us with very irregular sleeping schedules, maybe because we’re binge-watching or are used to sleeping when we want, it is time to revisit that and come up with a healthy and regular sleeping plan. One that will leave you refreshed and energized throughout the day. At least seven to eight hours a day if you are an adult.
- Exercises like breathing exercises and yoga are also very key. Though caution should be taken when it comes to exercise as it should not be done within the four hours before going to bed.
- People who exhibit mental conditions such as depression may be prescribed an antidepressant to help minimize sleep paralysis occurrences.
- Get enough rest so that your muscles and brain are relaxed and not tensed.
- For those taking medications for different conditions, it’s good to keep track as some of them might have side effects that interfere with your sleep.
- For people with a history of trauma, then, trauma counselling or psychotherapy would be very beneficial.
- For caffeine lovers, it would be wise to avoid this beverage before sleeping to ensure that you have an uninterrupted sleep.
- If you exhibit symptoms of narcolepsy, then it would be wise to reach out to a doctor. It is important if the symptoms you exhibit interfere with your work and/or home life. If the underlying cause is narcolepsy for your sleep paralysis, your physician may recommend or prescribe drugs to help you manage it.
- For those who spend a lot of time on social media because they don’t want to feel left out, this is the time to re-examine your social media and general online habits and find a healthy balance that ensures that your sleeping pattern is not interfered with and your mental health is also not impacted negatively. One could have a specific time for using their phone before bed or switching off notifications that are likely to destruct you from concentrating on yourself and family.
- For those who involve themselves in risky behavior just to be ‘likeable’ on social media, it’s time you looked at the real cause of your feelings and addressing them – whether it’s depression or low self-esteem and learning more about body positivity.
If you are suffering from any of the trigger factors of sleep paralysis, it is time you looked at the prevention tips and act as early as possible to keep it at bay. It is never too late to start. This will not only help you in the prevention of sleep paralysis, but will also add to your general physical, mental, and emotional health.
If you suspect or know someone who is going through this, kindly offer them comfort and suggest ways in which they could prevent themselves from getting another episode.
From all the experiences shared, and maybe your own experience, sleep paralysis may not be as dangerous, but it is definitely an unpleasant experience. The good news is that it can be prevented through practicing good habits that ensure your physical, mental, and emotional health is in check.