April 12th is celebrated as International Lucid Dreaming Day. Today, there are special practices through which people learn to control their dreams. And of course, lucid dreaming is perceived as a uniquely positive phenomenon. Indeed, what is wrong, at first glance, from the fact that during sleep a person remains conscious and can even control the course of events? However, in some cases, lucid dreams are also accompanied by sleep paralysis, a condition in which a person can experience a state of horror and see nightmares while awake. What caused such a violation, whether it is dangerous and how to deal with it correctly, Healthyinfo understood.
What happens with sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a disorder associated with the inability to move or make a sound. Doctors distinguish two forms of the condition:
Hypnagogic paralysis — occurs before falling asleep.
Normally, at this time, the body gradually relaxes, and a few seconds before sleep turns off consciousness. If, for some reason, a person remains conscious, he feels that he does not control his body and cannot move his muscles.
Hypnopompic paralysis — occurs upon awakening.
This form is described by patients more often than the previous one. But doctors attribute this to the fact that hypnagogic paralysis is often not remembered, but the inability to move after waking up, on the contrary, makes a strong impression on a person. This form is caused by the desynchronization of the processes of starting consciousness and restoring the functioning of the muscular system. Hypnopompic paralysis occurs when you wake up in REM sleep, when muscle tone is maximally reduced, and brain activity, on the contrary, is increased. And if for some reason the part that is responsible for consciousness is also activated, the person goes into a borderline state — he realizes where he is, but at the same time he cannot move, and besides this, he can experience hallucinations (a kind of continuation of a dream).
Sleep paralysis occurs in 40% of people — some experience it once, others may wake up in a stupor several times a night. Most often it occurs in adolescents and young people — from 13 to 30 years.
Neurologists assure that most seizures are not associated with diseases of the nervous system, but are only the result of overwork and other external factors. But still, in rare cases, they can talk about narcolepsy (a sleep disorder associated with constant drowsiness), especially if it occurs in patients older than 30 years. In young people, attacks of paralysis may alternate with somnambulism. This disorder is, in fact, another manifestation of the same desynchronization, only with it the body starts muscle activity, and consciousness, on the contrary, remains dormant.
Symptoms of sleep paralysis: hallucinations, panic and more
Recovery of motor function during sleep paralysis takes from a few seconds to 2 minutes. The condition itself is harmless to health, but subjectively perceived as dangerous. Therefore, one of the main manifestations of sleep paralysis is a feeling of panic and fear.
Against their background, a person feels:
Inability to move muscles, while eye movement is maintained.
Inability to say a word or shout.
Difficulty breathing (sometimes it seems to a person that there is a weight on the chest or some kind of creature is sitting).
Visual hallucinations — stories about demons, ghosts, abductions by alien creatures are associated with sleep paralysis. Sometimes it seems to patients that there is someone in the house, someone is sitting near the bed.
Auditory hallucinations — visions are often accompanied by sounds. Squeaks, rustles, even voices and articulate speech are heard.
Rapid heartbeat, which a person can subjectively perceive as a threat to life, there is a fear of death.
Movement without it. It may appear that the body is turning on its side, although in fact it is in a motionless state.
The sensations during sleep paralysis, including choking, are not related to physiology. Therefore, they cannot harm life and health. In fact, you cannot suffocate during an attack, even if it feels like there is not enough oxygen.
During a torpor, a person’s body twitches, restless breathing is observed, a grimace of tension, fear appears on the face. Noticing these symptoms, loved ones should wake the person.
Why sleep paralysis occurs
The reasons for the desynchronization of the process of falling asleep / waking up are not exactly established. At the same time, doctors identify factors that are more likely than others to provoke sleep paralysis. Among them:
Violation of the regime of the day, poor, insufficient sleep.
Stress, prolonged depression.
Sleep in the supine position. A person sleeping on their side or stomach does not experience sleep paralysis.
Alcohol abuse, drug addiction.
Long-term use of medications, especially antidepressants and tranquilizers.
Restless legs syndrome.
Other sleep disorders are insomnia, narcolepsy.
In rare cases, sleep paralysis indicates serious disorders of the nervous system, mental disorders. In particular, it occurs in people with bipolar disorder. But only a doctor can connect sleep disorders with such diagnoses and only after a detailed diagnosis.
Can sleep paralysis be cured?
As a rule, attacks of sleep paralysis go away by the age of 30. But if the condition is very disturbing and happens quite often, you can turn to a neurologist, psychotherapist or somnologist. With frequent sleep paralysis, the doctor will advise you to keep a diary in which you need to write down all the possible reasons for the development of an attack — well-being the night before, stressful situations, and so on. This will help to accurately identify the provoking factor and eliminate it.
In the vast majority of cases, unpleasant attacks go away after the normalization of lifestyle. It is enough for a person to change the schedule, increase the duration of sleep, reduce the number of stressful situations — and sleep paralysis will not return.
However, in severe cases, the doctor may prescribe medications — antidepressants. It is strictly forbidden to take such medications on your own, as they can lead to a deterioration in the condition.
By itself, sleep paralysis is not sufficient reason to test a patient for mental disorders. But if this symptom is observed against the background of other disorders, the person is sent for a psychiatric examination.
How to help yourself during an attack
Stunned after sleep lasts for a short period of time and does not cause damage, so even if a person does not take any action, it will not harm his health. And yet, people prone to the manifestation of sleep paralysis, it is better to know how to quickly recover and get rid of panic horror.
The most important task is to correctly assess your condition, to understand that everything that happens around you is just hallucinations that have nothing to do with reality.
It is necessary to try to relax the muscles, tension only exacerbates the subjective feeling of squeezing the body.
You can try to control the muscles that are under the control of consciousness — rotate your eyes, move your tongue or fingers.
If the muscles cannot be started, it is better to be distracted by mental activity — to count, to remember foreign words, to sort out concepts and objects in the mind.
The main methods of preventing sleep paralysis
In order to minimize the risk of recurrence, it is important to adhere to the rules of prevention. Here are some tips to help you avoid numbness after waking up:
Sleep at least 8 hours.
It is insomnia that is one of the main causes of seizures. With sufficient sleep, the body has time to fully relax, and the sequence of processes of awakening consciousness and muscle activity is not disturbed.
Sometimes a sudden awakening happens against the background of nervous tension. Therefore, if there were stressful situations during the day, you can take a relaxing bath before going to bed, have an aromatherapy session, and have a massage.
Wake up by alarm clock.
Sleep paralysis is a borderline state between sleep and wakefulness. External influence will help to start the work of muscles and eliminate hallucinations. In this case, the alarm clock is a good way to break the numbness of the muscles.
Sleep on your side or stomach.
According to statistics, sleep paralysis attacks are observed in people who sleep on their backs. In this position, with complete relaxation of the muscles, it is difficult to regain control over them. From a position lying on your side or stomach, it is easier to start moving.
Refusal of mental work before going to bed.
Mental strain affects the quality of sleep, it can be shallow and disturbing. As a result, the likelihood of a sharp awakening of consciousness increases. Therefore, it is recommended to give up mental work 2–3 hours before bedtime, read an interesting book, unload the brain with the help of relaxing music.