Sleep Paralysis: Can’t Scream or Move Nightmare

Cope with Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a condition where people are paralyzed at the onset of sleep or upon waking. It is a disorienting condition that may also proffer vivid and terrifying hallucinations. Here are some steps to help you identify and cope with sleep paralysis.

Recognize the Symptoms

  1.  

    Learn to recognize the symptoms. Sleep paralysis can affect you in many different ways. There are, however, some commonalities that people experience, including[1]:

      
     
     
    An inability to move the trunk or limbs at the beginning of sleep or upon awakening 
    • Brief episodes of partial or complete skeletal muscleparalysis
       
    • Visual and auditory hallucinations(people often sense an evil presence, or feel a phantom touch, or hear an unidentifiable noise in the room)
       
    • A sense of breathlessness (or chest pressure)
       
    • Confusion
       
    • Helplessness
       
    • Fear
       
     

What to Do During Sleep Paralysis

  1.  

    Focus on body movement. You may find that you are able to move a part of your body (often your toes, fingers, or tongue) to force yourself to a fully waking state. [2]

      
     
  2.  

    Focus on eye movement. Your ability to open your eyes and look around is generally not hindered by sleep paralysis. Some people recommend rapidly moving their eyes back and forth to break the paralyzed state.[2]

     
      
     
  3.  

    Focus on breathing. Controlled breathing can be an excellent relaxation technique. Knowing some breathing techniques in advance may help you regain control during a sleep paralysis episode.

     

     
     
  4.  

    Imagine yourself moving. Some people intentionally induce a sleep-paralysis state to induce what they believe to be out-of-body experiences. Imagining oneself moving effortlessly from the body may be a pleasant alternative to sleep paralysis.[2]

     
     
     
     
     

Treating the Symptoms

  1.  

    Sleep regularly. Sleep paralysis is thought to happen when the sleeper enters the REM-sleep state prematurely.[2] Since this is more likely to occur when a person is sleep-deprived, maintaining a regular healthy sleep pattern and getting enough sleep can significantly reduce the likelihood of sleep paralysis episodes.[3] If you suffer from insomnia, train yourself to fall asleep more easily.

     
     
     
     
     
     
  2. “Sleeping on my side worked for me.” -Maria

    Sleep on your side. About 60% of sleep paralysis episodes reportedly occur when the sleeper lies on his or her back; to break this habit, sew a pocket or pin a sock to the back of your nightshirt and insert a tennis ball or two.[2]

     

     
     
  3.  

    Exercise regularly.[3] You don’t have to go to the gym. Simply introduce a low-impact exercise regimen to your day. Taking a walk in the morning, for example, is a good idea.

     
     
      
     
  4.  

    Eat healthy. Nothing is more important than what you put inside your body. Cut out the things that will affect your sleep, such as caffeine, alcohol, and sweets.

     
     
     
  5.  

    Relax. Stress interrupts normal sleep cycles, which can greatly contribute to the likelihood of sleep paralysis.[2] There are many things you can do to help you calm down, such as meditating, listening to music, and playing with a pet. Decide what works best for you.

     
     
     
     
  6.  

    See a doctor. When episodes occur once a week for 6 months, it’s time to consult with your personal health care provider.

     
     
     

Further Preemptive Treatments

  1.  

    Talk about it with your friends. It’s much easier to deal with a medical condition when you know you’re not the only one. You might be surprised to learn that someone you know has gone through something similar.

     
     
     
     
     
     
  2.  

    Keep a log. Track the details of the experience, the time, your sleep pattern, sleeping position, mental/emotional state before and after you were paralyzed, and if you were paralyzed while falling asleep or upon waking up. This can all be useful information, especially if you decide to a see a doctor about the condition.

     
     
     
     
     
     
  3.  

    Identify the triggers. Sleep paralysis can be triggered by a variety of situations. For example, some researchers have found that it can be caused by the position you fall asleep in. These researchers recommend sleeping in any position other than your back. It can also be caused by certain sedatives or pain medication. Switching medications can eliminate the problem.

     

     
     
  4.  

    Avoid the triggers. After identifying your personal triggers, do your best to avoid them. This will significantly reduce the chances of experiencing sleep paralysis.

     
     

    Tips

  • Avoid caffeine 5 hours before sleep.
  • Sleep paralysis can be terrifying but it isn’t dangerous or harmful.
  • Consider having your doctor administer a sleep study diagnosis. With proper treatment of a diagnosed sleep apnea condition, the sleep paralysis may subside and/or disappear.
  • If you feel an episode coming on at night, try sitting up and staring at a bright light for a minute or two.
  • If you experience disassociation (“out of body” feelings), try to “feel” the texture of your sheets, clothes, or furniture around you. It’s easier to wake up if you focus on one of your senses. Alternately, ignore the sense of paralysis, and allow yourself to follow the “out of body” feelings; you can turn an unpleasant surprise into an enjoyable lucid dream, which you may be able to control. Try visiting friends or pleasant spots you have visited. No harm can come to you, so don’t be afraid.
  • Sleep paralysis is a very common medical phenomenon. Do not worry about the supernatural or spiritual implications of such an episode.
  • You might find yourself still dreaming while experiencing paralysis. This is the time when sleep paralysis is most confusing. For example, you might awaken to see the outlines of your bedroom, but at the same time you might see an intruder in your dream. These sorts of dreams are common in conjunction with sleep paralysis, and they are known to be exceptionally frightening.
  • You might feel the urge to break free of the paralysis by trying to sit up or moving a lot. Doing this can often cause you to be paralyzed further and the pressure to increase. The best way is to simply relax and recognize that you are in no danger and the feeling will soon pass.

Sources and Citations

  1. Guardian article on sleep paralysis
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 University of Waterloo resources on sleep paralysis – this site also has an ongoing study on sleep paralysis where you can contribute your experiences
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sleep Paralysis Information Service
 
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