Sleep paralysis can be a terrifying experience, and it can make bedtime a living nightmare for those who suffer from it. If this is something that has become a regular occurrence, then you will notice it starts to have a negative impact on your daily life and interrupt simple tasks such as focus, work, and socializing through lack of sleep.
Sleep paralysis can also cause you to attain a newfound fear of sleep, which may mean you begin to put off going to bed. Try to avoid sleep where you can, which, of course, is damaging to your general health.
What happens during a sleep paralysis episode can be frightening and unsettling. Sufferers will often describe it as a feeling of being awake yet paralyzed in their beds, unable to move their limbs or even open their eyes. For some, this unnerving feeling can last just a couple of seconds. However, for others, it can be a prolonged experience that can last as long as 20 minutes.
Throughout this guide, I will tell you about what sleep paralysis is, what you can do to stop it at the moment, and how you can improve your general sleep hygiene to prevent it from happening.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is more of a common condition than you might think; believe it or not, it’s harmless, although it may not feel that way at the moment. It often starts in childhood, but it’s a condition that can commonly occur into adulthood.
What happens during an episode of sleep paralysis is that your mind is still awake, in a sleep stage called REM sleep or rapid eye movement, which is when you dream. However, the reason we don’t act out our dreams is. At the same time, we’re asleep because the muscles are in a state of temporary paralysis. These muscles are usually relaxed by the time you wake from your dream.
When there is a delay in your muscles relaxing, your mind wakes up before the rest of your body, leaving you with the feeling that you’re unable to move.
Some people may never experience sleep paralysis, and others may only go through it once or twice. However, for some unfortunate people, it can become a regular occurrence. It can start to impact their daily lives as they become worried that it will happen again, causing a lot of stress and anxiety.
Another symptom people talk about when they’ve experienced an episode of sleep paralysis is that they see hallucinations. It is usually a form of entity or frightening figure who seems to be holding them in position, which is why it’s understandable that for some people, this can be a terrifying condition.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes this delay in our muscles waking up after the brain has woken from sleep. However, what has been proven through studies, is that the condition is often linked to other disorders such as insomnia, PTSD, narcolepsy, and some psychological conditions. It’s also believed that some medications can cause sleep paralysis.
Aspects such as having an inconsistent sleep schedule or being under a lot of stress or pressure in your daily life can also cause you to have disturbed sleep which is when sleep paralysis can occur. In some cases, waking up with cramps can also give the impression of feeling paralyzed.
How To Stop Sleep Paralysis?
An episode of sleep paralysis can be pretty unsettling, especially when accompanied by hallucinations or frightening visions. Some people even feel like they might be suffocating while experiencing sleep paralysis, which can be terrifying. But what can you do to stop it?
While there might not be anything you can do at the moment, after all, technically, you’re still asleep. There are some things that you can put in place to try and prevent it from happening in the future.
1. Sleep Environment
Concentrating on creating a relaxing sleep environment harms your general sleep quality. What I mean by this is making sure that the surroundings in which you sleep are comfortable, quiet, and serene.
For example, your bedroom should be an ample temperature. Being too hot during the night can cause you to wake up multiple times, interrupting your sleep cycle and impacting your circadian rhythm.
Ensure that the lighting in your bedroom is sufficiently dark, and remove any form of ambient lighting. Blackout curtains and sleep masks work well if you live in a brightly lit area.
Your sleep environment should also be as quiet as possible, so if you’re unfortunate enough to have noisy neighbors or live near a busy road, sleeping with earbuds might be something to consider.
2. Relaxation Techniques
There are many relaxing techniques that you can put into practice to help you unwind before bed. It means you’re less likely to have a night of interrupted sleep. These include practicing meditation, warm baths, or reading a non-stimulating book. All these things are believed to release melatonin, which promotes healthy sleep.
3. Sleep Schedule
A consistent sleep schedule is detrimental to your sleep hygiene and circadian rhythm. It helps your body and mind develop a consistent sleeping pattern by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning. You can use the above relaxation techniques to let your brain know it’s time to wind down.
The most important thing is to find a schedule that works for you and stick to it daily. Going off-piste by pulling an all-nighter every weekend will negatively impact your sleep for the rest of the week in the long run.
4. Avoid Stimulants
Consuming a lot of caffeine in the later hours of the day is likely to cause you difficulty falling asleep and also lead you to wake up and experience broken sleep. This can cause a disturbance in the REM stage, which can lead to sleep paralysis.
Therefore, decreasing the amount of caffeine you have throughout the day, as well as anything else that increases the heart rate, such as excessive exercise, might see you sleep through the night without any unsettling disturbances.
5. Clear Your Mind
This method may be easier said than done. Still, if you can master it, it’s probably one of the most helpful methods of avoiding sleep paralysis. This is especially the case for people who experience frightening visuals and hallucinations that sometimes go hand-in-hand with sleep paralysis.
One way to do this is by trying to picture positive thoughts and images before you go to sleep. Focus on pleasant experiences that have happened recently or memories that make you happy. While you’re thinking about these images, try to concentrate on slowing down your breathing, taking deep breaths in, and releasing the breath slowly and calmly.
This can take some practice, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s a technique that you can use to help combat many sleep disorders.
There are other things that you can try to help you overcome sleep paralysis. Though it’s not scientifically proven, some say these methods have dramatically helped their sleep quality. They include drinking herbal teas, such as lemon balm or chamomile, or taking supplements, such as melatonin or 5-HTP.
However, if you’re considering taking a supplement for sleep, ensure that you consult your doctor before doing so, especially if you’re taking any other medication.
A Last Look
I hope that in reading this guide, you now feel more at ease knowing that you’re not the only person suffering from this frightening sleep disorder. It’s a pretty common condition.
However, that doesn’t make it any less concerning when you wake up during the night feeling as though you’re being held down or visualizing disturbing images.
As we’ve established, there are many techniques you can put into practice that help to dramatically improve your sleep quality and hopefully keep sleep paralysis at bay.
Most of the techniques I’ve discussed in this guide are ones that you can easily put into practice by simply changing your sleeping habits and surroundings. However, if you decide that none of these are working for you and feel you need to opt for supplements, it’s vital that you seek advice from a medical professional before doing so.
Most herbal supplements are harmless, but they must be taken in the correct doses. You must ensure they won’t interfere with any other medication you may take.