What You Should Know About Sleep Paralysis
This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
You may have had the experience of feeling like you can’t move during a dream, but if this has happened while you’re in the process of falling asleep or waking up, this experience has a name: sleep paralysis. During sleep paralysis, your mind is conscious but you are unable to move your body. You may also think you see or hear things that aren’t really there or experience the sensation of choking or someone sitting on your chest. It can be a frightening experience, but understanding what’s behind it can make it feel less stressful. Learn what causes this REM phenomenon and how you can lower the chances of it happening to you.
What It Feels Like
As you fall asleep, your body slowly relaxes itself and becomes less responsive to physical signals from your brain. During sleep paralysis, your body begins to go through the relaxation process but your mind is awake enough to notice that is no longer controlling your ability to move or speak.
Sleep paralysis can also occur when you are in the process of waking up. In this case, your mind regains consciousness before your REM sleep cycle is finished. During REM sleep, your body is relaxed and your muscles are “turned off” off so that you don’t physically act out your vivid dreams. Waking up before the last stage of REM sleep is complete can cause you to hyperventilate and hallucinate, as well as make it seem as though you are unable to move your body. Fortunately, sleep paralysis is temporary and typically lasts just a few seconds.
Who Gets It
Sleep paralysis is most common in people with narcolepsy, but it can happen to those without it as well. It affects both men and women, and is more likely to happen to teenagers or young adults. It is often genetic, and it is most common in those with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or panic disorder. Lack of sleep or a shifting sleep schedule can also cause sleep paralysis.
Although there is no formal treatment for sleep paralysis, you can take certain steps to help prevent it. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night and stick to a consistent sleep routine. Avoid sleeping on your back, which has been linked to the condition. And talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any underlying mood issues that could contribute to your situation. Remember, although the experience can be scary, sleep paralysis is not dangerous and usually lasts only a few seconds.