Sleep paralysis is a common sleep disorder. Sufferers include would-be sleepers from across all demographics. We spoke to Kenneth C. Anderson, M.D., a specialist in pulmonary medicine and sleep medicine and a physician at the Sleep Disorders Center at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, Kentucky, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.
If you think you might have sleep paralysis, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Tracie Handley
"Sleep paralysis is more of a symptom. You have that symptom, but it can be from many different causes," says Dr. Anderson. "[It's] sleep paralysis, except you're not asleep. Your mind wakes up, but your body is still asleep, or it's in REM sleep, and REM sleep is when you can't move anything."
"With sleep paralysis, your mind wakes up, but your body doesn't," he says. "You can tell your arm to move, in your mind, but your arm won't move; you're literally paralyzed. Don't panic. You still have the ability to breathe normally, and slowly, as your body awakens, you'll come out of it."
Get An Evaluation For Narcolepsy
According to Dr. Anderson, "Sleep paralysis is one of the classic symptoms of narcolepsy. If you're experiencing sleep paralysis, then you need to have a professional evaluation for narcolepsy, which requires specific treatment."
Determine If You're Experiencing Sleep Deprivation
"You need to look at why the patient may be having sleep deprivation and, if possible, address those issues," says Dr. Anderson. "You need to determine if you're really experiencing sleep deprivation and focus on that issue, because sleep deprivation can lead to the sleep paralysis."
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
"As with all sleep disorders, good sleep hygiene is the first step." Dr. Anderson says, "You have to do what it takes to get good sleep, like make your bedroom a room for sleep; don't make it your office or entertainment center. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. Set a sleep pattern and stick with it so your body gets into a routine."
Be Aware So You'll Be Prepared
"Sleep paralysis happens, most commonly, when you're waking up, so you'll wake up not being able to move," says Dr. Anderson. Preparing yourself for those moments can help you deal with the situation. For instance, he says, "Sleep paralysis, to me, is most scary when it happens in the morning, because it would be like, 'OK, my mind's awake, but I can't move my arms, I can't move my legs, I can't get out of bed.' If you're aware of this ahead of time, you can handle the situation better, so a patient should try to be aware of it and prepare for the sensation, knowing that as their body wakes up, they'll be able to move."
Kenneth C. Anderson, M.D., is a specialist in pulmonary medicine and sleep medicine and is a physician at the Sleep Disorders Center at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as with Louisville Pulmonary Care, LLC. Dr. Anderson is a graduate of the University of Louisville, where he completed his residency and fellowship. He is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, sleep medicine and hospice and palliative medicine, and is a certified NIOSH B reader.
Have you ever suffered sleep paralysis? What worked for you?