HEALTHY LIVING

Your Sleep Questions Answered: Sleep Paralysis

01/30/2012 12:40 pm ET

Sleep paralysis is a fairly common sleep disorder that can affect both men and women, but usually occurs first when a person is in his or her teens. We scoured the Web to find answers to some frequently asked questions about sleep paralysis, giving you background information so that you or your loved one can literally sleep better at night.

Note: You should not rely on the information in this post as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Jane Ellis

Sleep Paralysis

A person who is suffering an episode of sleep paralysis will feel as though he is fully or partially awake, but cannot move or speak. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the disorder usually occurs just after a person falls asleep or is about to awaken. The episode can be very frightening. Some people may experience accompanying hallucinations, such as feeling there are demons in their rooms.

Symptoms

According to WebMD, a person who has been experiencing sleep paralysis episodes may be exhausted because the frightening incidents may keep him or her from wanting to fall asleep at night.

Causes

When a person falls asleep, the brain tells the body's muscles not to act out what it is dreaming. This is called atonia. Occasionally, a person will awaken fully or partially before coming out of this stage and realize they cannot move. According to the website Narcolepsy Revealed, scientists believe that when sleep paralysis occurs, the body and the brain have somehow gotten out of sync while going through the different phases of dreaming and sleeping.

Standard Treatments

Sleep paralysis often occurs when a person becomes overly tired or has had his sleep patterns disturbed. Stress can also bring on bouts of sleep paralysis. A person who is experiencing sleep paralysis should try to get a full night's sleep -- six to eight hours, if possible, according to Sound Sleeping.org. Additionally, people who suffer from this disorder should not sleep on their backs, as studies have shown that this may increase the chances of having an episode.

Severity

Most of the time, sleep paralysis is not life threatening. However, if a sufferer loses sleep at night because of the episodes, he may become drowsy and endanger himself or others during the day if, for example, he fell asleep while driving or using dangerous machinery. According to the BBC, scientists have speculated that a very rare syndrome known as Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) may be related to sleep paralysis. In this case, the body accidentally paralyzes the heart and diaphragm muscles during atonia.

Quality Of Life

Most sleep paralysis incidents are very short in duration and pass without any lasting effect. However, BBC reports incidents of demonic or alien hallucinations frightening sufferers into dreading sleep or worrying they are going insane.

The Old Hag

Sleep paralysis does at times involve the sensation that another "being" has entered the room. According to a number of sources, including an article in The Weekend Telegram, sleep paralysis has also been called the "Old Hag" because sufferers have reported that it feels as if an old witch is sitting on their chests during an episode. Others have reported that they felt as if they were being attacked by a being. The experience is often terrifying, especially to those who are not familiar with what sleep paralysis is.

Have you ever suffered from sleep paralysis? What advice worked for you?

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