Unsolved Sleep Mysteries

Unsolved Sleep Mysteries: Why Do You Feel Paralyzed While You’re Asleep?

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night feeling as if an evil presence was holding you down? Maybe you tried to speak or scream or run but couldn’t. Or perhaps you felt the sensation of floating above your bed. Fear not. Experts say these seemingly paranormal experiences are actually hallucinations associated with a sleep disorder called sleep paralysis.

In fact, research shows that nearly eight percent of people have experienced sleep paralysis at least once. So, you’re not alone (and you’re not crazy).

What causes sleep paralysis?

Experts think sleep paralysis occurs when something disrupts your REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep,where dreaming takes place.

As a result, your body might feel stuck or frozen for seconds or minutes, and you might also experience hallucinations. At a biological level, parts of the brain can be awake and conscious, while your body remains immobilized. Why does this occur?

Scientists aren’t sure why, but one theory suggests that being in a state of paralysis during REM sleep prevents us from hurting ourselves, especially if we were to react violently to a perceived threat.

What can you do (besides panic!)?

Before you stray from your sleep schedule, know that sleeping less than six hours, more than nine hours, or napping longer than two hours, are associated with increased risk of sleep paralysis.

sleep paralysis

Here’s what else you can do to minimize disruption of REM sleep:

  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
  • Sleep in a pitch-black bedroom.
  • Power down electronics before bed and place devices in another room.
  • Keep your bedroom cool (60°F to 67°F).
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine at least three hours before bed.
  • Drink your last cup of coffee no later than 2:00PM (or earlier, if you’re caffeine sensitive).
  • Sleep on your side, instead of your back—reports show that back sleepers can have more frequent nightmares.
  • See a sleep specialist to rule out other sleep disorders that might contribute to sleep paralysis, like obstructive sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
  • Stop watching scary Halloween movies before bed. ????

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