What Is Sleep Paralysis and What Causes It?

Sleep paralysis might seem like a minor problem that we experience every once in a while. However, for many people, this sleep-related disorder can affect day to day life and lead to physical and mental health issues if gone untreated. Sleep paralysis has been used in horror movies and films, due to it being such a strange and scary occurrence in our bodies. In reality, sleep paralysis is a natural reaction in our body and there are ways to cope and prevent this from happening.

Sleep Paralysis – What Is It?

Explained in a simple way, sleep paralysis is a sign that our bodies are not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. This strange paralyzed feeling has been explained to be caused by “an evil presence” over the centuries, due to lack of information on this condition. In reality, this physical reaction is just like nightmares; it is our bodies responding to certain triggers in our brain or body. This sleep disorder causes a feeling of being conscious but unable to move your body. This usually occurs when passing through stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may feel unable to speak, a pressure in the chest area or a sense of choking.

Sleep paralysis may occur in 2 different instances; while falling asleep (hypnagogic or pre-dormital) or while waking up (hypnopompic or post-dermital). Hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs while falling asleep; your body relaxes slowly and you become less aware and you do not notice the change. If you become or remain aware while falling asleep, you may experience a sensation of not being able to move or speak. Hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs during sleep when your body alternated between non-rapid eye movements (NREM) to rapid eye movement (REM). Your eyes move quickly while dreaming, but the rest of your body remains “sleeping” or very relaxed. During this, you might feel unable to move or speak.

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The Causes of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is seen more in teens, but both women and men of any ages can experience this sleep-related condition. It can run in families and be passes down through generations, but these are not the main causes of sleep paralysis. Other factors that are linked to sleep paralysis include changes in sleep schedule, lack of sleep, substance abuse, use of strong medication and mental conditions, such as stress or bipolar disorder. Sleeping positions such as lying on your back for long periods of time can also cause sleep paralysis. Other sleeping disorders such as nighttime leg cramps or narcolepsy can lead to sleep paralysis or vice versa.

Sleep-related disorders can cause sleep paralysis and bring on more serious health-related issues. Sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, and sleep-wake disorders are also related to sleep paralysis. These sleep disorders have been known to cause depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. Physical health issues can also be caused by sleep disorders and that includes raised body temperature, aches and pains, raised heart rate and panic attacks. Healthy sleeping patterns and sleep cycles should not be taken lightly and should be a priority. Sleep is a pillar to a healthy and happy life, and it is important to see it as such.

Easy Ways to Cope With Sleep Paralysis

As mentioned above, sleep paralysis is simply a physiological reaction to our bodies not moving smoothly through sleep stages. Simply put, don’t worry, there is not a ghost in the room and you’re not getting abducted by aliens. The first step to coping with sleep paralysis is understanding that everything is fine and that you’re not stuck in a horror movie. There are many simple ways to cope and avoid sleep paralysis and you can choose which is best for you.

Go with the flow – If you experience sleep paralysis frequently and have seen with your own eyes that it’s not the worst thing, next time just go with the flow. Don’t fight the feeling of being unable to move, it will make it worst. Also, “freaking out” will raise your heart rate and make it harder to come out of the “paralyzed state”. Take a breath, think about something else and patiently wait it out. Your body will relax faster and you will be able to move in no time.

Breath in and out – Sleep paralysis has been shown to cause chest pains and or a sense of choking. The best way to avoid these sensations is steady breathing. When you are transitioning into sleep paralysis, begin to breathe in and out in a relaxed manner. By controlling your breathing, you will also be able to control your fear. While being in a sleeping paralysis state, people will be so frightened that they forget to breathe, which simply increases the fear, the panic and the length of time of being unable to move. Remember to breath and let go of the fear; everything will be fine.

Making funny faces – This might seem like a strange solution, but it is very effective for some people. Moving the facial muscles can be easier than moving other parts of the body such as hands, legs or feet. When you are beginning to feel “paralyzed”, focus and make the funniest face you can think of. Not only does moving a part of your body wake you up and allow you to move, but it also lightens the mood and takes away the sense of fear or panic. Try to scrunch your nose, raise your eyebrows or do “kiss lips” various times until your body relaxes completely and goes back to normal.

Avoiding Sleep Paralysis in the Future

Stress or anxiety can be a cause of sleep paralysis and it is best to find ways to deal with these emotions to avoid sleep paralysis and other sleeping disorders. Exercise is also an amazingly effective way to avoid sleeping paralysis; it promotes healthy sleeping cycles and allows you to sleep soundly for a longer amount of time. Try to avoid eating sugar-packed foods before going to sleep, for they can cause nightmares or uneasy sleeping.

The goal is to find the solution that works for you. Everyone is different and not everyone has the same solution to the same problem. If you find something that works for you and that helps with your sleep paralysis, use it and enjoy sleeping soundly in the future. Although sleep paralysis is not considered one of the most dangerous or harming sleeping disorders, it shouldn’t be ignored. Sleeping well is crucial for a healthy and happy life and we should all be more conscious about out sleep-related health.

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