Let's start by picturing something: you went to bed quite early and then suddenly at late night, (let's say some minutes past midnight) you are woken up to your dark room due to a bad dream you had. Still in this same condition, you find yourself unable to stretch out your hands to switch on any of the lamps close to you, it's like there is a sort of weight on you, on virtually every part of your body. It's feels like every single muscle in your body have gone on break (or still sleeping) and to top it all, even when you struggle so much to scream for help; help isn't coming from anywhere because your voice (screaming out for help) doesn't even leave your mouth.
At this point in time, it becomes a struggle for you, as you are stuck in between trying to put on the light and going back to sleep but non seems to be coming through; it even causes you to have some kind of uneasiness in breathing, much like an heart attack.-- Have you ever been in such situation, well if you have; then you are not alone. You are just among the many number of persons who experience episodes of sleep paralysis.
The previous experience we just imagined is just a tip of the iceberg of what it feels like to experience a sleep paralysis episode. What happens to our body during this period? Are we really held down by someone, as some seem to believe? What is responsible for sleep paralysis, -- these and more are the questions we shall make an attempt to answer with scientific outlook, but first...
What Is Sleep Paralysis?!
According to Wikipedia
Sleep paralysis is when, during awakening or falling asleep, a person is aware but unable to move or speak. During an episode, one may hear, feel, or see things that are not there. It often results in fear. Episodes generally last less than a couple of minutes. It may occur as a single episode or be recurrent.
I think the way livescience puts it, makes it more comprehensive, so let's take a look at the definition by livescience;
Sleep paralysis is the inability to move or speak immediately after waking up. This can be an exceptionally scary time for those afflicted with this weird phenomenon, but despite former beliefs, the feeling of paralysis is not caused by supernatural beings...
Sleep paralysis could occur in two different forms. The first happens while you falling asleep (hypnagogic or predormital form), while the second happens while you waking up from sleep (hypnopomic or postdormital form). Although the former is the most common type.
For a concise understanding of what sleep paralysis is, a basic knowledge on what Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is is required, so let's divert a little.
Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep, REMS) is a unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds, distinguishable by random/rapid movement of the eyes, accompanied with low muscle tonethroughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly
A lot of things usually occurs while we are asleep, one of such is Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which typically is movement of the eyes in varrying directions. REM sleep usually occurs about ninety (90) minutes (for the first stage) soon after you sleep and could last about ten (10) minutes and then more minutes as stages increases. At these point, breathing and heart rate quickens, we loose control over voluntary muscle and the, we easily dream. Although, just before Rapid Eye Movement occurs, we go through a phase called the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep which has about three sub stages. As we sleep we move between the Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep and the Rapid Eye Movement Sleep.
Once a person wakes up before the Rapid Eye Movement stage has been completed, then such person is bound to experience an episode of sleep paralysis. As such, such person would be left in a state of paralysis, but then only availed the privilege of being conscious of their environment. Such person could be experiencing auditory and sensory hallucinations, reason being that the paralysis keeps one awake as dream episodes continues to play out. For those who experience sleep paralysis, it feels like being locked in a trap.
There Is More To The Causes Of Sleep Paralysis
Quite a good number of factors has been identified as the possible causes of sleep paralysis, some of which according to livescience includes the following
- Sleep deprivation
- Some medications
- Substance abuse
- Some sleep disorders - sleep apnea
- Sleep paralysis is commonly seen in patients with narcolepsy.
Having mentioned these, some culprits have been identified as the key players in the build up to sleep paralysis.
GABA and Glycine are two very common chemicals found in the brain, they are responsible for the paralysis of the muscles when rapid eye movement sleep is in progress. They both transmit signals to the brain cells and the brain automatically switches off the neurons which keeps the muscles active. Breathing during sleep is usually as a result of the paralysis of the muscles in the upper airway, it brings about some sort of choking feel. The sense of a second party (let's say a ghost or spirit) been present in the same room is usually a result of the high activities in the emotional center of the brain the amygdala) and also the low sensory detection cusp. When these two forces combine, they make you feel like there is a ghost (or spirit) directly on top of you, trying to restrict your movement (just as we see in our Nigerian home videos. lol)
Dealing With Sleep Paralysis
Having to live with sleep paralysis isn't a funny issue after all, the very fear of having to go over the same episodes over and over again; it seems like you acting out a particular scene in a scary (or horror) movie. Quite a good number of persons with sleep paralysis end up developing insomia over time, this is because they do not want to experience the same scary episodes again and again. Everyone might not have specified treatment to deal with his or her own sleep paralysis, but then it is advisable that upon initially having an episodes, one should begin to seek out way of handling it. Your sleep paralysis might just simply mean that you are depriving yourself of quality sleep. In such an instance, what such individual should is take out some more quality time to sleep on a daily basis, reduce intake of drugs, keeping electronic devices out etc. If the episodes continue, then you could set up an appointment with a sleep specialist.
While some persons get to just experience an episode of sleep paralysis and then it goes away, some other persons happen to experience it on a re-occuring basis especially if it's genetically connected; this case might actually be worse. Going by everything that has been mentioned in this article, sleep paralysis is nothing to be scared of, infact the only fear that accompanies it is the fear which you allow (the extent to which you mind allow), so in order to prevent this, endeavour to keep track of good sleeping habits (it's nothing too much to ask for). But then, if your episodes of sleep paralysis has entered it's re-current form, then it's time to book an appointment with your doctor (a sleep specialist). Apart from prescribing antidepressants drugs like clomipramine, they would be able to profer an alternative solution for your sleep paralysis.