Have you ever woken up from sleep and realized that you can’t move, like your body is paralyzed? There’s a medical term for it- SLEEP PARALYSIS. It is a feeling /state of being unable to move or speak right after falling asleep or waking up. The condition occurs when the mind feels lucid and awake but the body is still flooded with chemicals that keep the body paralyzed during sleep.
The cause is not yet clear but risk factors include; Insomnia, narcolepsy (excessive uncontrollable daytime sleepiness), stress, Post traumatic stress disorder. Also it is most likely brought on by an interruption in the normal sleep pattern. Between 8% and 50% of people experience sleep paralysis at some point in their lifetime. Also another major theory is that the neural functions that regulate sleep are out of balance in such a way that causes different sleep states to overlap.
It usually results in your senses being hyper aware hence the feeling of a weight on their chest or an inability to breathe. It has to do with the transition between two stages of sleep; Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep.
During normal sleep, the body passes through two stages; NREM and REM. At the onset of sleep, your body passes through the NREM. At this stage, your eyes gets closed, your heart rate slows and temperature drops. As the body proceeds in this cycle, the body repairs tissues and strengthens the immune system. At its final cycle, your body gets ready for deep sleep and moves to the REM stage.
At the REM sleep/stage, it usually occurs around 90minutes after you fall asleep. This stage occurs in cycles and during the final phase of sleep, your brain becomes more active, heart rate and blood pressure increases. This is the deepest part of sleep and is when most dreams occur.
At the commencement of this stage, the body is largely disconnected from the brain practically leaving the body paralyzed. Therefore waking up at this time, one experiences the sleep paralysis. It is known that the body goes into paralysis at this time to prevent the individual from acting out his dreams.REM sleep plays an important role in learning and memory function.
There is no cure but treatment methods are available; it’s advised to improve your sleep schedule and maintain good bedtime routine, get at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep a day, using antidepressant; it is described to regulate sleep cycle. Also, try as much as possible to ward off forms of distractions before sleeping. Students and psychiatric patients are among those likely to experience it and this could be as a result of their level of stress and overall sleep health.
Note that these phases last for different durations at various ages; an infant sleep cycle is different from an adult. Most NREM sleep occurs in night and the length of REM periods increases as the night goes on. That’s why there’s a good chance you’ll awaken from a dream in the morning.
This occurrence leaves most people scared because of the feeling of a demon or presence suppressing them. It’s best to remain calm asit only lasts for few minutes, though it’s a little too much to ask considering the kind of environment we find ourselves. If before this moment you have experienced sleep paralysis, you are now informed. Act accordingly.
Written by Anyabolo Ekene Emmanuel, University of Nigeria, Nssuka, NIGERIA