Here’s everything you need to know about sleep paralysis

From diagnosis and symptoms to causes and treatments, here’s everything you need to know about sleep paralysis…

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move or speak as you’re falling asleep or waking up. The sensation occurs when in a hynopompic state (when waking up) or a hypnogogic state (when falling asleep), where the person is completely aware of their surroundings whilst being asleep. Whilst harmless, this sensation can often a very scary experience, with many describing it as an out-of-body experience. After the episode passes you will be able to move and speak as normal.

How long does sleep paralysis last?

Although it will feel like the paralysis is lasting an excruciatingly long time in the moment, the episode generally tends to last for only a few seconds.

How common is sleep paralysis?

Feeling this sensation is not uncommon, with some surveys suggesting that 25-30% of the population will experience some form of sleep-type paralysis at least once in their life. For most people, experiencing sleep paralysis is a one-off episode, while others experience it more frequently with some experiencing it a few times a month.

Sleep paralysis
What are the symptoms of sleep paralysis?

The most obvious symptom is being temporarily unable to make movements or speak whilst being very aware of your surroundings. Other symptoms of sleep paralysis include difficulty breathing, a crushing sensation on your chest and in some cases hallucinations and being able to open your eyes. Another key symptom is actually the feeling of fear as it can be a very unsettling experience.

What can cause sleep paralysis?

Experiencing this type of sleep disorder can happen to anyone. While there’s no definitive cause, it is most commonly linked to sleep deprivation, irregular sleeping patterns, stress, depression and some prescription medications. In some cases it can be down to more serious causes like a family history of this sleep disorder or narcolepsy, and in others, it can be simply down to sleeping on your back.

Is sleep paralysis dangerous?

Experiencing this type of sleep disorder can be terrifying, with many people explaining that in the moment they felt as though they were dying. Whilst being scary, however, the natural state is completely harmless and will have no dangerous or lasting effects.

Sleep paralysis
Are there treatments for sleep paralysis?

Like most sleep disorders, this tends to improve over time. You can help the process though, by improving your sleeping habits, sticking to a regular sleep pattern in a comfortable environment. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help, as well as avoiding smoking, caffeine and big meals before bed.

When should I consult a GP about my sleep paralysis?

For most people, sleep paralysis will be a one time occurrence and as it is not harmful, there is usually no need to consult a doctor. If, however, you are experiencing sleep paralysis on a regular basis or feel that your symptoms could resemble narcolepsy, get in touch with your GP.

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