Sleep paralysis occurs at one of two times. If it occurs while you’re falling asleep, it’s known as hypnagogic or predormital sleep paralysis. If it occurs as you’re waking up, it’s known as hypnopompic or postdormital sleep paralysis.
What Happens with Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis?
As you drift off to sleep, your body slowly relaxes. Usually, you become less aware, so you don’t notice the change. However, if you remain or become aware while falling asleep, you might notice that you can’t speak or move.
What Happens with Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis?
When you’re asleep, your body alternates between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. One cycle of REM and NREM sleep lasts about 90 minutes. NREM sleep occurs first and takes up to 75% of your overall sleep time. During NREM sleep, your body relaxes and starts to restore itself. At the end of NREM, your sleep shifts to REM. Your eyes move quickly, and dreams occur, but the rest of your body remains relaxed. Your muscles are “switched off” during REM sleep. If you become aware of this before the REM cycle has finished, you may notice that cannot move or speak.
Who Does This Happen to?
As many as four out of every 10 people may suffer from sleep paralysis. This condition is often first noticed in the teen years, but men and women of any age can have it. Individuals with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression are more prone to frequent episodes of sleep paralysis. Other factors that may be linked to sleep paralysis include:
• Lack of sleep
• Sleeping on your back
• Other sleep issues such as narcolepsy or night time leg cramps
• Sleep schedules that change
• Use of certain medications, such as those for ADHD
• Substance abuse
If you find that you’re unable to move or speak for a few seconds or minutes when waking up or falling asleep, then it’s likely that you have isolated recurrent sleep paralysis. There’s often no need to treat this condition.
However, if you have any of the following conditions, you should get them checked out by a doctor:
• You feel anxious about your symptoms
• Your symptoms leave you tired throughout the day
• Your symptoms keep you awake at night
How is Sleep Paralysis Treated?
Most people need no treatment for sleep paralysis. Treating any underlying issues such as narcolepsy may help if you’re anxious or unable to sleep well. These treatments may include:
• Improving sleep habits – such as making sure you get 6-8 hours of sleep every night
• Taking antidepressants if they are prescribed to help regulate sleep cycles
• Treating any mental health problems that might contribute to sleep paralysis
• Treating any sleep disorders such as leg cramps or narcolepsy
As a rule of thumb, one episode of sleep paralysis does not warrant a trip to the doctor’s office. Healthcare professions recommend that those who suffer from rare episodes of sleep paralysis pay particular attention to their sleeping habits, as sleep deprivation increases the chances of an episode.