You wake up in the middle of the night and feel like something heavy is sitting on your chest, crushing the breath out of you.
It’s a scary, overwhelming feeling, and the worst part is that you can’t even scream or move, because you find yourself in a paralysed state completely gripped by fear.
Sounds familiar? Welcome to the world of sleep paralysis. A common yet eerie experience that occurs when the body and mind aren’t on the same page while sleeping. We give you a rundown.
Why does it occur?
Experts believe that sleep paralysis is merely a phenomenon where the body transitions between deep sleep and complete alertness. While speculation on the same has varied from people believing that they are sharing the room with some demonic presence to some thinking that it is our body’s way of preventing us from acting out our dreams. Being aware of having woken up while the body is still asleep can be a mortifying experience, especially when the phenomenon is coupled with having strange visions and the feeling of breathlessness. It is also more common in people who have sleep disorders.
“It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an overpowering need to sleep, caused by a problem with the brain’s ability to regulate sleep,” says Clinical Psychologist and author, Seema Hingorrany.
While some believe that severe stress or a past tragedy might activate this phenomenon, spiritually inclined thinkers are more drawn towards supernatural explanations. Studies have also suggested that it is merely our body’s way of preventing us from moving around in our sleep.
There are several causes of sleep paralysis. The most common one being stress and lack of proper rest. An erratic sleeping schedule may be another reason for the same.
Most sleep experts conclude that sleep paralysis, simply put, arises when your body does not move smoothly between the stages of sleep. Many cultures staunchly believe in an evil presence in the room that lurks around and terrifies helpless people in their sleep. In some cases, a family history of the same has been noted, even though the condition doesn’t seem to have any genetically transmitted symptoms.
Says Dr. Preeti Devnani, specialist in sleep medicine and neurology, “A young girl had three episodes of sleep paralysis. In one of these she saw her cousin sitting next to her and talking. She related this experience to an erratic work schedule and lack of sleep. All these symptoms point to an experience of sleep paralysis.”
Treatment and cure
The most important and possibly simplest cure for this is following a regular sleep pattern. Most experts claim that the condition is temporary without having any long-lasting consequences. However, if it occurs more frequently and you find it bothersome, it is advisable to consult a doctor. “Taking out some time from your schedule to exercise regularly is beneficial too. Eating healthy is another simple yet sure shot way of ensuring that you don’t fall prey to sleep paralysis. Make sure you consume wholesome and nutritious food and avoid substances that can potentially harm your sleep cycle, like coffee or alcohol,” says health expert Neha Sinha.
Indulge in activities that relax you like listening to music, walking, playing with pets; basically activities that de-stress and unwind you as stress is one of the greatest contributors to triggering an episode of sleep paralysis.
Reasons linked to sleep paralysis
– Irregular sleeping schedule
– Stress and fatigue
– Other problems associated with sleep like narcolepsy or leg and hand cramps
– Use of medications or substance abuse
– Chronic sleep deprivation
– Mood disorders/ sleep apnea