Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sleep Paralysis

What is sleep paralysis? Sleep paralysis is when you cannot perform voluntary movements at the onset of sleep or upon awakening. Sleep paralysis is also known as isolated sleep paralysis, familial sleep paralysis, hynogogic or hypnopompic paralysis and predormital or postdormital paralysis. The symptoms of sleep paralysis range from the inability to move limbs, brief periods of partial or complete skeletal muscle paralysis and episodes can be associated with hypnagogic hallucinations or dream-like mentation which is the result from mental activity.

Sleep paralysis is often associated with narcolepsy, a neurological condition when a person falls asleep easy uncontrollably during the day. More information about narcolepsy see: My Child Falls Asleep Easy - Narcolepsy. There is no known reason why people experience sleep paralysis. It is not harmful to the body but can be very scary to the individual because there are no signs when an episode will happen. An episode can end gradually or abruptly by a sound or a touch on the body.

[caption id="attachment_874" align="alignright" width="162" caption="Sleep Paralysis - Old Hag Syndrome"][/caption]

When hypnogogic hallucinations happen people sense another presence in the room with them or something is sitting on their chest which makes them feel impending death and suffocation. This condition has been called the “Hag Phenomena” or the Old Hag Syndrome. You wake up unable to move, barely able to breathe... you feel an oppressive weight on your chest... and you sense some evil presence in the room... The old hag strikes!

The experience is so frightening because the victims, although paralyzed, seem to have full use of their senses. In fact, sometimes it is accompanied by strange smells, the sound of approaching footsteps, apparitions of weird shadows or glowing eyes, and the oppressive weight on the chest, making breathing difficult if not impossible. All of the body's senses are telling the victims that something real and unusual is happening to them. The spell is broken and the victims recover often on the point of losing consciousness. Fully awake and well, they sit up; completely baffled by what just happened to them since now the room is entirely normal.

The phenomenon occurs to both men and women of various ages and seems to happen to about 15 percent of the population at least once in a lifetime. It can occur while the victim is sleeping during the day or night, and it is a worldwide phenomenon that has been documented for centuries.

Other reasons that cause sleep paralysis are those with disrupted sleep schedules that upset the sleep/wake cycle, people that suffer from panic attacks or a panic disorder. If you see a doctor about this condition he may recommend a polysomnography which will monitor your muscle tone, REM onset and dissociated REM sleep while you are sleeping.

Ways to cope with your symptoms and avoid setting off an episode is to determine what set them off in the first place. Some episodes are triggered by a certain sleep position, stress, or happen during a particular time or place. Breathing exercises or reading/watching something funny right before bedtime can reduce stress. Try not to exercise close to bedtime as it is known that if you are physically exhausted there is a higher chance for a paralysis attack. Experts agree that sleeping on your back and not getting at least 6 hours of sleep can also trigger sleep paralysis.

When an episode starts remind yourself that you may experience certain sounds, feelings or hallucinations and they are not real otherwise, it may only worsen your episode. Try to remain calm and relaxed by breathing deeply. This will provide more oxygen for the body and can help you end the episode faster. Also if you can envision your body walking it could increase your wakefulness and snap you out of the attack. Concentrate a moving a small part of your body like your eyelids, fingers or toes as these small movements could stimulate you enough to end the episode. Some people who experience scary episodes may need antidepressant medication to eliminate dream-like mentation.

Treatment of sleep paralysis is aimed at whatever causes it to occur. Remember that sleep deprivation may trigger sleep paralysis, therefore it is recommended to get at least six to eight hours of sleep per night. People with psychiatric problems, like bipolar disorder may suffer from sleep paralysis. This person would need ongoing treatment with medication. This would be overseen by a physician or psychiatrist. You may notice sleep paralysis occurring with restless leg syndrome (RLS). It may also happen after a change in your medicines. The content provided in Sleep Paralysis is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for your sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.
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