What is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a relatively common condition that causes a temporary loss of muscle function while sleeping. Although this condition is not generally considered a cause for alarm, it can be quite frightening. Episodes can usually last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
While sleep paralysis isn’t entirely understood, experts have noted that it occurs more often in people who experience symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, depression, and narcolepsy. Sleep disorders can even present alongside menopause. However, sleep paralysis isn’t limited to people with these symptoms. Sometimes situational stressors can get tied in, as well. For instance, children having trouble maintaining sleep patterns during Covid. And it’s not just kids; 30% of people report having greater difficulty sleeping during the Covid pandemic.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is just one of many common sleep disorders and there are different ways it can come about. For example, poor sleep hygiene can increase your risk of experiencing sleep paralysis. Disrupted or inconsistent sleep patterns, periods of sleep deprivation, and even too much sleep can also heighten the risk of sleep paralysis occurring. And although there is a lot of information about sleep paralysis out there, the full details of its causes are not entirely understood.
If you experience sleep paralysis, it’s a good idea to speak with a medical expert. It may hint at another underlying condition being present. Bipolar disorder, insomnia, anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, narcolepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder can all accompany sleep paralysis.
Sleep Paralysis Symptoms
If you awaken during an episode of sleep paralysis, there are a few indicators that you can look for.
- Unable to move your muscles
- You might feel as if something is pressing you into the bed
- People have described sleep paralysis as feeling like someone is sitting on them
- Difficulty breathing
- Surges of fear and even brief hallucinations, sometimes called dream paralysis
A sleep paralysis episode can feel rough on the body, leaving you with aching muscles and sweating. But how long does sleep paralysis last? Thankfully, these episodes generally only last from a few seconds to a few minutes but can feel like they go on for much longer.
How To Stop Sleep Paralysis
One common recommendation for how to prevent sleep paralysis is to form better sleep habits. However, this can be trickier than it sounds since sleep paralysis tends to occur in people who have a hard time developing healthy sleep habits in the first place. Reducing daily stress can help encourage healthy sleep habits, but even so, some people may need to see a medical professional for assistance.
Thankfully, there are many tips and tricks to help with sleep. For instance, you might try a sleepy-time tea or some relaxation breathing exercises. Sometimes, though, all you need to do is reclaim your bedroom as a place for sleep. If you also experience night sweats or hot flashes, finding the right mattress can make a world of difference.
While many sleep paralysis cases may be treated without medical intervention, some instances can call for it—like cases with underlying conditions such as anxiety or depressive disorders, for example. If an underlying condition causes sleep paralysis, it may need to be treated first before the sleep paralysis can be resolved. Even in some situations without underlying conditions, a doctor may choose to prescribe an antidepressant to help with sleep if the sleep paralysis is severe enough.
How To Induce Sleep Paralysis
While many see sleep paralysis as a troublesome problem to be solved, some seek to induce it in themselves. Some people pursue self-induced sleep paralysis as a means of reaching a lucid dreaming state. Lucid dreams are thought of as being like the video games of the mind—imagine that you are dreaming but fully conscious of that fact and in near-perfect control of the dream. And while we don’t necessarily condone inducing sleep paralysis, it’s possible to do.
Many guides exist on the internet and within books to induce sleep paralysis and lucid dreams. The basics tend to focus on a simultaneous pursuit of awareness and drowsiness, a tricky combination to maintain. For a quick start exercise, try the below steps. Remember, though, that sleep paralysis is generally a frightening and unpleasant experience.
- Set the alarm to awaken you 4-5 hours after falling asleep
- Wake up enough to be aware that you are awake and turn off the alarm, then go back to bed with the intention of both sleeping and knowing that you are dreaming.
- Next, while falling asleep, imagine moving your body while making sure that you don’t physically move at all. The key to this step is to ensure that you internally feel as if you’re moving, even though to any observer, your body would appear still. This is the step that can induce and overlap with sleep paralysis. When your brain shifts entirely to moving your body within your imagination, it can temporarily disable much of your body’s muscle function. This can effectively mimic sleep paralysis in some people.
- Continue the previous step until you fall asleep and ‘awaken’ within a dream. At this point, if you achieve this, then you will have entered a lucid dream.