But you may have felt that way if you’ve ever experienced a very scary parasomnia called sleep paralysis. Very simply, your mind wakes up before your body does, and you feel, well, paralyzed. You can see, you can hear, but you can’t move. Episodes of sleep paralysis can also feature very frightening visual and auditory hallucinations. These episodes are typically quite short, from a few seconds to a few minutes. But people that have experienced sleep paralysis describe the time as feeling much longer.
Estimates indicate that one in three people will experience sleep paralysis during their lifetime.
Our bodies (other than our eyes and our diaphragm) are paralyzed during REM sleep – this actually keeps us from acting out our dreams (people that don’t experience this paralysis have another scary and potentially dangerous parasomnia known as REM Behavior Disorder). With sleep paralysis, the brain leaves REM sleep before the body does – causing the “sleep paralysis” phenomenon.
As truly scary as sleep paralysis seems, it isn’t really dangerous, or necessarily bad for your health. If you find yourself experiencing sleep paralysis, here are a couple of suggestions to help you stay calm and shorten the duration of the episode:
- Focus on trying to move your toes. Many people find that toe movement is possible, and this focus can help the rest of your body wake up.
- Focus on your breathing. Staying relaxed and calm, though often difficult to do, can help your body wake up.
- Focus on moving your eyes. Sometimes moving your eyes rapidly back and forth can help end the paralysis.
- Imagine yourself moving. This can help get the brain and body back in sync.
What causes sleep paralysis? Sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption appear to increase the possibility of experiencing sleep paralysis. Like most sleep issues, getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce the occurrence.
Sleep paralysis is often noted as the scariest of parasomnias – but there are several others that are both fascinating and terrifying.