Sleep Paralysis

Hyderabad Aug 16, 2020

You wake up in the middle of the night, convinced that an evil figure is lying in wait. You attempt to move, but your body or even a finger will just not budge. You feel suffocated and have shortness of breath and feel some pressure on your chest. But surprisingly, you are conscious and aware of your surroundings. You try to scream, but nothing comes out and you aren’t able to  move a single muscle .The monster draws closer. It may sound like a horror movie scene.  This isn't a nightmare or a medical emergency -- you likely just had a case of sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is a state, during waking up or falling asleep, in which a person is aware but unable to move despite one’s senses still functioning or speak but lasts less than a couple of minutes. It is a temporary condition, mostly harmless. It may be accompanied by hallucinations (hear, feel, or see things that are not there) which results in intense fear. Studies suggest that as many as half of all people experience it at least once. Phew!

In earlier times, it was believed a demon sat on the chest when a person was asleep. But this isn’t true at all. Scientifically, when we sleep, we experience cycles of REM sleep and non REM sleep.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is when your eyes move quickly from one side to the other. This is the time of the night when parts of your brain like the thalamus and the amygdala  (which is the part of the brain involved with processing fear) are most active. You see dreams during this phase.

usually people wake up when their brains are in the non-REM phase but sometimes you wake up with a jolt when you’re still in the REM sleep . You wake up but your brain is still dreaming. That’s what prompts sleep paralysis. During REM sleep cycle neurotransmitters  like GABA and glycine basically turn off your muscles to ensure that you don’t act out your dreams and hurt yourselves. So, if you wake up before a REM cycle is over your muscles are still sleeping so you can’t move even if you’re fully awake.

Your chest muscles are turned off too (with the exception of diaphragm), that’s why shortness of breath or pressure on the chest is felt. In sleep paralysis, your mind is still partially dreaming, leading you to experience hallucinations, which feel super real but they disappear once the paralysis is over, usually after a couple of minutes. These hallucinations are typically of a sensed presence of an evil or someone who is trying to choke you or as if you are floating.

The causes are not proper sleep schedules, fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety, having alcohol or caffeine close to bed time . This is more common in people of ages 10-25 years.

Therefore, a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health.

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