Imagine you just woke up, your mind is alert, but you are unable to move a muscle. You sense an evil presence in your room, and it feels as if someone is sitting on your chest. You feel fear and dread. It sounds like a night terror, but it’s not. It is actually an episode of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon where your muscle movements are inhibited, but your eyes are open, and you are conscious of your surroundings. It occurs:
Sleep paralysis is generally categorized into three types based on its recurrence and co-occurrence with narcolepsy:
Isolated episodes that occur independently of narcolepsy and other medical conditions.
Recurring episodes of sleep paralysis are often seen in patients with narcolepsy.
Recurring episodes of sleep paralysis in someone who does not have narcolepsy.
Sleep paralysis is an under-researched phenomenon, and so the exact causes of sleep paralysis are unknown. Researchers believe that sleep paralysis causes are likely to be multifaceted. The following reasons have been linked to causing sleep paralysis:
On the basis of occurrence, you can say that there are two types of sleep paralysis:
The primary symptom of sleep paralysis is muscle atonia, i.e., your inability to move your body. Even though you are conscious and can move your eyes, your body is paralyzed.
Muscle atonia is often accompanied by hallucinations. The hallucinations vary but generally come in three different types:
Hence muscle atonia and hallucinations, along with the feelings of fear and breathlessness, are the main symptoms of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is generally not considered a medical diagnosis. If you feel the above-mentioned symptoms and it makes you anxious, you can consult a doctor that specializes in sleep conditions.
The doctor will inquire about the symptoms, your medical history, any mental disorders, any family history, etc. The doctor may ask you to maintain a sleep diary for a few weeks to observe your sleeping patterns.
If your doctor suspects any sleep disorders, he may recommend an overnight sleep study (polysomnography) to monitor your breathing, heart rate, and brain waves as you sleep.
Even though sleep paralysis can be an undeniably horrible experience for some people, it does not cause any bodily harm. There have been no reported deaths due to sleep paralysis to date.
What happens during sleep paralysis can be very unsettling and scary, but in truth, it is not dangerous. Usually, no medical intervention is required.
Treatment for sleep paralysis is only required if it is due to any underlying condition. Sleep paralysis on its own does not need any medical treatment.
If your episodes are because of any mental condition, you should consult a psychiatrist. If your episodes are because of any sleep disorders, you should consult a sleep expert. Most of the time, good sleep hygiene will do the trick.
To lower the risk of any sleep paralysis episode, you can improve your lifestyle and sleep hygiene. You can use the following tips to do the same:
Now, if you feel as if you are being abducted by aliens, do not fear. You are most likely just having an episode of night paralysis. Keep calm and let it pass, and everything will be okay.
Brian A Sharpless, A clinician's guide to recurrent isolated sleep paralysis.
Brian A. Sharpless and Jacques P. Barber, Lifetime Prevalence Rates of Sleep Paralysis: A Systematic Review
Dan Denis, Christopher C. French, Richard Rowe, Helena M. S. Zavos, Patrick M. Nolan, Michael J. Parsons, and Alice M. Gregory. A twin and molecular genetics study of sleep paralysis and associated factors