Why is Sleep Important to the Human Body?
Sleep is an essential part of our body’s self-healing and repairing mechanism. It is when the body rests at night that the regeneration of damaged cells takes place. The body goes through cycles of REM or Rapid Eye Movement and NREM or Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep. The body switches through these two states at least four to six times during the course of the night. Each stage typically takes about 90 minutes to complete.
What is Sleep Paralysis?
At times when people wake from sleep, they are unable to move. Some may be able to open their eyes but are unable to speak. They are fully aware of their surroundings but are absolutely paralysed as their muscles refuse to respond to them. For those who are unable to even open their eyes, it can be a very scary experience. They may have hallucinations about some malevolent presence in the room with them. This state of immobility may last for two minutes on average.
What Causes Sleep Paralysis?
The reason the muscles are immobilized is that dreams occur when the body goes through the REM state of sleep. These vivid and clear images could make the dreamers thrash around in their sleep, and possibly injure themselves. This is why the brain sends a message to the neurons to immobilise the limbs. If the dreamer happens to wake before the 90-minute REM cycle is completed, paralysis is experienced until the brain’s second set of instructions sets the muscles free. There is no unnatural influence of ghosts, ghouls or witchcraft behind sleep paralysis.
How is Sleep Paralysis Diagnosed?
Isolated incidents of sleep paralysis are experienced by most of the world’s population. These do not have any ill effect on the body’s health or on the quality of sleep. Such episodes of sleep paralysis may take place either after the person wakes up or just before the person falls asleep. Most people who develop recurrent sleep paralysis get used to the condition. However, in case one becomes anxious about the condition, a visit to a healthcare provider for a formal diagnosis and advice on ways to manage it could help.
Is Sleep Paralysis Dangerous?
While being paralysed for a few minutes can be a very unsettling experience, the condition of sleep paralysis is not inherently dangerous to the health of the person. Very often sleep paralysis is caused by other underlying reasons such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important to find out the true cause of sleep paralysis, if any, and treat it, so as to improve the health of the person.
Can Sleep Paralysis be Prevented?
There are a number of reasons for sleep paralysis. If these triggers are removed, most people will begin to experience a reduction in the episodes of sleep paralysis. Eventually the condition may disappear altogether. Those with psychiatric issues as well as sleep paralysis may benefit from appropriate care and medication to address the main psychiatric issue. It is important to remember that medication for certain conditions is also a possible trigger for sleep paralysis.
How to Deal with Sleep Paralysis
Getting a good night’s sleep is the best way to avoid sleep paralysis, since such an episode is triggered by the person waking up before completing a REM cycle of the sleep state. Most people suffer from inadequate sleep and this predisposes them to episodes of sleep paralysis. Here are some ways to get a good night’s rest.
- Ensure that the bedroom is clear of clutter, and the bed has a comfortable mattress. The room should have an ambient temperature such that the sleeper is neither too cold or too warm. Keep quilts and covers handy and easily accessible on the bed so that you don’t have to get up and hunt for them at night.
- The bed should only be for sleeping. The person should not lie in the bed and read or play games or use digital media. The idea is to associate being on the bed with a restful night’s sleep. The only thing you should do in bed other than sleep is lie down and meditate with your eyes closed. This may aid in having a deeper, more relaxed sleep.
- Ensure that you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. The weekends usually play havoc with the regular routine. This disrupts the sleep pattern of the person and could trigger sleep paralysis.
- Limit the use of addictive substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, and the like, stopping at least an hour before you go to sleep. The chemicals in these substances will not influence your sleep pattern to a great degree if stopped well before bedtime and if you ensure that you are well hydrated before you go to bed.
Reviewed by Liji Thomas, MD.