It is not unusual or indicative of any health condition, concern or issue for the human body to enter into a phase of paralysis during an average sleep cycle. Because this happens precisely when a person is asleep though, few people are aware the body does this. For the majority of individuals, paralysis lifts whilst still sleeping or upon waking.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which an individual – upon waking – finds that their body is partly or even entirely paralysed. That is, a person wakes to find themselves unable to feel or move parts of or often their entire body. This understandably frightening experience of partial or full bodily paralysis can ebb within seconds or endure for several minutes. It can also render a person incapable of speech as well as movement. Whether experienced, as it can be, as a one-off occurrence or on a regular basis, it is a terrifying reality experienced by thousands of people every day.
Who Experiences Sleep Paralysis?
The major factors understood to contribute to and increase the likelihood of experiencing sleep paralysis are:
- Irregular Sleep Patterns
- Age (perhaps surprisingly, sleep paralysis is more commonly experienced by teenagers and young adults than older generations)
- Sleep Deprivation
- Consuming large or regular amounts of alcohol and / or caffeine
- Using technology such as Smart phone, tablets and lap top devices (which stimulate the nervous system)
That said, the exact causes of sleep paralysis are yet unknown, though it is generally agreed amongst health physicians that a combination of factors can together cause the phenomenon or make it more prevalent in some patients.
How Can Sleep Paralysis Be Avoided or Alleviated?
If you are experiencing sleep paralysis or its symptoms, it is advisable to consult your GP to rule out any underlying health issues. You doctor may even suggest or advise that you take part in a polysomnography or sleep study to fully explore your symptoms. In the meantime, it is also advisable to cut out or at least try to limit drug, alcohol and caffeine use, eat a varied and nutritionally balanced diet and engage in regular physical exercise, when possible.
Because sleep paralysis can result from or be exacerbated by the inability to sleep, lack of adequate sleep and irregular sleep, one of the most simple and proactive ways in which to reduce the risk of experiencing sleep paralysis is through creating a comfortable and relaxed sleeping environment. Removing technologies such as TVs, smart phones and laptops from sight and reach is hence important. If a device is most often found at the office or used to socialise and engage with others it is not likely to promote restful sleep or aid the mind and body in relaxing.
Equally, a comfortable bed and appropriate bedding for the season and climate are both important in facilitating a good quality of sleep, and enabling a person to nod off and sleep well. So, take a look at your sleeping space, bed and bedding and ask yourself: what can I remove, replace or rethink in order to potentially improve my quality of sleep? Subsequently, take action, ideally before you find yourself experiencing sleep paralysis or sleep disturbances.