Scary dream: how to cope with sleep paralysis?

April 12 is the International Day of Lucid Dreaming in the world. Today there are special practices through which people learn to control their dreams. And of course, lucid dreaming is perceived as an unambiguously positive phenomenon. Indeed, what is bad, at first glance, from the fact that during sleep a person remains conscious and even can control the course of events? However, in some cases lucid dreaming also accompanies sleep paralysis – a condition in which a person can experience a state of horror and have nightmares in reality. What caused such a violation, is it dangerous and how to deal with it correctly, MedAboutMe figured out .

What Happens With Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a disorder associated with the inability to move or make a sound. Doctors distinguish two forms of the condition:  

  • Hypnagogic paralysis – occurs before falling asleep.

Normally, at this time, the body gradually relaxes, and a few seconds before sleep turns off consciousness. If for some reason a person remains conscious, he feels that he does not control his body and cannot move his muscles.

  • Hypnopompic paralysis – occurs on awakening.

This form is described by patients more often than the previous one. But doctors attribute this to the fact that hypnagogic paralysis is often not remembered, but the inability to move after awakening, on the contrary, makes a strong impression on a person. This form is caused by the desynchronization of the processes of starting consciousness and restoring the work of the muscular system. Hypnopompic paralysis occurs when awakening in REM sleep, when muscle tone is maximally reduced, and brain activity, on the contrary, is increased. And if, for some reason, the part that is responsible for consciousness is also activated, the person goes into a borderline state – he realizes where he is, but at the same time he cannot move, and besides that he can experience hallucinations (a kind of continuation of a dream).  

Sleep paralysis occurs in 40% of people – some experience it once , others may wake up in a stupor several times a night. Most often it occurs in adolescents and young people – from 13 to 30 years old.

Neurologists assure that most seizures are not associated with diseases of the nervous system, but are only a consequence of overwork and the effects of other external factors. Still, in rare cases, they can talk about narcolepsy (a sleep disorder associated with persistent drowsiness), especially if it occurs in patients over 30 years of age. In young people, paralysis attacks may alternate with somnambulism. This disorder is, in fact, another manifestation of the same desynchronization , only with it the body starts muscle activity, and consciousness, on the contrary, remains asleep.

Sleep paralysis symptoms: hallucinations, panic, and more

It takes from several seconds to 2 minutes to restore motor function during sleep paralysis. The condition itself is harmless to health, but is subjectively perceived as dangerous. Therefore, one of the main manifestations of sleep paralysis is the feeling of panic and fear.

Against their background, a person feels:

  • The inability to move the muscles, while maintaining eye movement.
  • Inability to say a word or shout.
  • Difficulty breathing (sometimes it seems to a person that a weight is on the chest or some kind of creature is sitting).
  • Visual hallucinations – it is with sleep paralysis that stories about demons, ghosts, abductions by alien creatures are associated. Sometimes it seems to patients that there is someone in the house, someone is sitting near the bed.  
  • Auditory hallucinations – visions are often accompanied by sounds. Squeaks, rustles, even voices and articulate speech are heard.
  • Rapid heartbeat, which a person can subjectively perceive as a threat to life, there is a fear of death.
  • Movement without doing it. The body may appear to be turning on its side, when in reality it is stationary.

The sensations during sleep paralysis, including suffocation, are not related to physiology. Therefore, they cannot harm life and health. In fact, you cannot suffocate during an attack, even if the sensations are not enough oxygen.

During a numbness, a person’s body twitches, restless breathing is observed, a grimace of tension, fear appears on the face. Having noticed these symptoms, loved ones should wake the person up.

Why does the state of sleep paralysis occur?

The reasons for the desynchronization of the process of falling asleep / waking up are not exactly established. At the same time, doctors identify factors that are more likely than others to provoke sleep paralysis. Among them:

  • Violation of the daily routine, poor, insufficient sleep.
  • Stress, prolonged depression.
  • Sleep while lying on your back. Sleep paralysis is not observed in a person sleeping on their side or stomach.
  • Alcohol abuse, drug addiction.
  • Long-term use of medications, especially antidepressants and tranquilizers.
  • Restless legs syndrome.
  • Other sleep disorders are insomnia, narcolepsy.

In rare cases, sleep paralysis indicates serious disorders of the nervous system, mental disorders. In particular, it occurs in people with bipolar disorder. But only a doctor can associate sleep disorders with such diagnoses and only after a detailed diagnosis.

Is it possible to get rid of sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis attacks usually subside by age 30. But if the condition is very disturbing and happens often enough, you can turn to a neurologist, psychotherapist or somnologist . With frequent sleep paralysis, the doctor will advise you to keep a diary in which you need to write down all the possible causes of the development of an attack – the state of health the night before, stressful situations, and so on. This will help to accurately identify the provoking factor and eliminate it.

In the vast majority of cases, unpleasant attacks go away after the normalization of the lifestyle. It is enough for a person to change the schedule, increase the duration of sleep, reduce the number of stressful situations – and sleep paralysis will not return.

However, in severe cases, the doctor may prescribe medications – antidepressants. It is strictly forbidden to take such medications on your own, as they can lead to a worsening of the condition.  

Sleep paralysis alone is not a sufficient reason to screen a patient for mental disorders. But if this symptom is observed against the background of other disorders, the person is sent for a psychiatric examination.

How to help yourself during an attack

The numbness after sleep lasts a short period of time and does not cause damage, so even if the person does not take any action, it will not harm his health. Still, people prone to sleep paralysis know better how to quickly recover and get rid of panic horror.

  • The most important task is to correctly assess your condition, to understand that everything that happens around is just hallucinations that have nothing to do with reality.
  • You need to try to relax the muscles, tension only aggravates the subjective feeling of squeezing the body.
  • You can try to control muscles that are under the control of consciousness – roll your eyes, move your tongue or fingers.
  • If the muscles cannot be started, it is better to be distracted by mental activity – to count, remember foreign words, go over concepts and objects in the mind.

The main methods of preventing sleep paralysis

In order to minimize the risk of recurrent attacks, it is important to adhere to the rules of prevention. The following techniques will help to avoid numbness after waking up:

  • Sleep for at least 8 hours.

Insomnia is one of the main causes of seizures. With sufficient sleep, the body has time to fully rest, and the sequence of the processes of awakening consciousness and muscle activity is not disturbed.

  • Correct bedtime.

Sometimes a sharp awakening occurs against the background of nervous tension. Therefore, if during the day there were stressful situations, before going to bed you can take a relaxing bath, have an aromatherapy session, and do a massage.

  • Wake up by alarm clock.

Sleep paralysis is a borderline state between sleep and wakefulness. An external influence will help to start the work of muscles and eliminate hallucinations. In this case, the alarm clock is a good way to interrupt muscle stiffness.

  • Sleep on your side or stomach.

According to statistics, attacks of sleep paralysis are observed in people who sleep on their backs. In this position, when the muscles are completely relaxed, it is difficult to regain control over them. It is easier to start moving from a lying position on your side or stomach.

  • Refusal of mental work before bed.

Mental stress affects the quality of sleep, it can be shallow and disturbing. As a result, the likelihood of a sharp awakening of consciousness increases. Therefore, it is recommended to give up mental work 2-3 hours before bedtime, read an interesting book, unload the brain with the help of relaxing music.

Leave a Reply