Sleep paralysis is a relatively common experience – up to one in four people may experience it unintentionally at some point in their life. This transient disability occurs when features of REM sleep, such as rapid eye movement, intrude on wakefulness , causing paralysis of the muscles, trouble breathing, and vivid dreams in which hallucinations often appear. This disconnection between the brain and the muscles of the body can cause serious symptoms.
What is sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is simply an extension of the dream state (called REM or rapid eye movement sleep), making it technically harmless . However, it is not something that people want to experience frequently as it can be unpleasant . People suffer from an inability to move, speak, or control their body , despite being aware and wanting to do so. Sometimes it is accompanied by hallucinations , which add to the unpleasant nature of the situation.
Causes of sleep paralysis
There may be some factors that influence sleep paralysis that are beyond the control of each person, but some self-induced behaviors can trigger an episode of sleep paralysis if the situation arises. By learning how certain aspects can potentially lead to this disability, it is possible that it can be largely avoided.
The causes of sleep paralysis are surprisingly mundane, despite the elaborate explanations given by some experts or spiritualists. To better understand what sleep paralysis is, you have to imagine two states of consciousness: being asleep and being awake. There is usually a transition period between these states. Elements of consciousness, such as awareness of the environment, can be preserved, while regular sleep processes, such as dreaming, can begin to intervene. This transition is generally short and uneventful. However, a prolonged or interrupted transition can predispose people to experience some unusual situations.
Problems regulating REM sleep
In particular, these episodes are thought to be related to a problem regulating REM sleep. It is during this stage of sleep when the body is paralyzed, which is why the inability to represent dreams appears. Sometimes this muscle relaxation, called atony , happens when a person is awake, so they cannot move even when they are in a conscious state. This is one of the common characteristics of sleep paralysis.
Clearly, there are certain triggers for sleep paralysis:
- It often occurs during periods of sleep deprivation and stress.
- Many people experience it when their sleep schedule is disrupted, regardless of the reason.
- People with sleep disorders in shift work may be at higher risk for it.
- If you try to sleep during the day, sleep disruptions are more likely to occur.
Also, sleep paralysis can be triggered experimentally by disrupting REM sleep . In a controlled environment – for example, an investigation – this could be attempted, and has been shown to incite the phenomenon to occur.
How does it affect rest?
Some of the effects of this disorder in people who suffer from it are:
- Fear of falling asleep for fear of experiencing another episode of sleep paralysis, and consequent insomnia.
- Anguish, terror and helplessness when realizing that they cannot move.
- Feeling exhausted and without strength during the day .
In case you experience these consequences and you go through sleep paralysis on a frequent basis, it would be appropriate to consult with your doctor to receive the appropriate treatment if necessary.