The Causes Of Sleep Paralysis & How To Manage It

what causes sleep paralysis

What is Sleep Paralysis?  

Sleep paralysis can be a frightening experience that is often hard to describe. Whilst it can be distressing and affect ones ability to get a good night rest, sleep paralysis is not life-threatening, nor does it directly cause any long term health concerns.

The feeling of sleep paralysis is that of being completely aware, but not being able to move a muscle. Often, this temporary paralysis is paired with feelings of pressure on the chest, choking and terror.

Many people also experience vivid hallucinations.  

Although sleep paralysis is not considered dangerous or a serious condition, if it leads to a loss of sleep or sleep quality; fatigue can quickly take over, so should be closely monitored.

The Symptoms of Sleep Paralysis.  

Sleep paralysis is experienced differently person to person, and is sometimes unique to an individual every time. There are, however, some sleep paralysis symptoms that are a consistent trend:  

  1. Waking up and being unable to move.

Feeling paralysed is more of a requirement of sleep paralysis than a symptom, but is still the most obvious sign of the sleep disorder. The paralysis is usually from the neck down and can last anywhere from a few seconds to multiple minutes.      

  1. Being mute.  

Waking up and not being able to move can be really distressing if you don't know what is going on. Because of this, many people try to scream for help, but find that they can't make a noise.  

Not being able to scream, speak or make any noise at all is a common sleep paralysis symptom. 

  1. Feeling a weight on chest.  

Sleep paralysis always happens during REM sleep, which is when the body is most relaxed. During REM sleep the body breaths in a very shallow, fast fashion. 

When waking up into sleep paralysis, it can feel as if there is a weight on your chest or like you are being held down. This is because your lungs have very little air in them; if you lay on your back and take a big breath out, you will experience a similar sensation. 

  1. Vivid dreams/hallucinations whilst awake.  

Dreaming, sleep-talking and sleep-walking all occur during REM sleep, along with sleep paralysis. Semi-waking up during a dream and becoming 'aware' can result in dream-like hallucinations which can be very vivid.  

sleep paralysis symptoms

The Causes Of Sleep Paralysis.

Whilst most sleep disorders are usually the result something specific, sleep paralysis is unique in the fact that it can be caused by absolutely nothing and just occur out of the blue. 

There are some habits that many sufferers of sleep paralysis consider 'triggers', and may lead to more frequent encounters or more severe symptoms, these are: 

  1. lack of sleep.

Regularly sleeping less than the recommended daily amount can eventually lead to fatigue. Fatigue is a condition in which people feel overly tired both mentally and physically.

Whilst being tired usually makes falling asleep easy, being fatigued can result in quite the opposite. Sufferers of fatigue often experience restless, frequently interrupted nights, which increases the chance of waking up during REM sleep and experiencing sleep paralysis.  

  1. Change of routine.  

The body loves routine, especially when it comes to sleep. If you adhere to a regular sleeping pattern and then have a random extra early or late-night, you can nock your internal body-clock out of sync, which can lead to poor sleep quality and in turn sleep paralysis.  

  1. Other sleep problems.  

Other sleep conditions that cause interrupted sleep can trigger you lightly wake up during a cycle of REM sleep. There is no factual evidence to support the theory that other conditions cause sleep paralysis, but many sufferers of sleep paralysis do claim that they suffer from other sleep-related conditions.  

  1. Substance abuse.  

Substances such as drugs, alcohol and even caffeine can have a direct influence on sleep quality.

Substances that change the way your body functions can affect the bodies ability to regulate sleep. Being unable to get good quality sleep is a common trend of habits that may lead to sleep paralysis.

REM Sleep Stage And Paralysis.  

There are a total of 5 stages of sleep, from light sleep, stages 1 and 2, through to deep sleep, stages 3 and 4.

The 5th and final stage of sleep is called REM sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. REM sleep is the deepest stage of sleep in which the mind is most active and the body is least.  

During REM sleep the body is put into a temporary paralysed state, so that the body can focus its attention on other areas, such as the mind. 

Dreams occur exclusively during this stage of sleep due to the brain being so active. If you wake up or become aware during REM sleep, sleep paralysis is very likely. 

Why getting Enough Sleep Is Important.  

why is adequate sleep important

Whilst getting enough sleep is necessary, consistently achieving enough high-quality sleep is essential.  

Why is adequate sleep important?

Sleeping for around 7-9 hours allows your body to go through all 5 stages of sleep, and in turn, properly repair itself. Without adequate amounts sleep the body won't have enough time to fully recuperate and replenish itself, which can lead to multiple health problems.  

Is REM or deep sleep more important?  

It would be wrong to suggest that either is more important than the other, because they both serve different purposes. Whilst REM sleep is categorised as deep sleep, it is quite unique in comparison to stages 3 and 4.

REM sleep is essential for cognitive health, it the time in which the brain can process information, form memories and balance its own chemical composition.  

Deep sleep is when the body can most efficiently repair the body. During stages 3 and 4, the metabolism is regulated, blood sugar stabilised, hormone levels are replenished and damaged tissue is repaired. 

In a simplified sentence – REM sleep is for the mind and deep sleep is for the body.  

Not getting enough deep and REM sleep can lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Low sex drive
  • Weakened immune system
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Memory issues

 A note to leave with.  

Sleep paralysis is a non-serious sleep disorder that can affect anyone; seemingly without a specific cause.  

Whilst the symptoms of sleep paralysis can be frightening, it is important to remember that it is not life-threatening, nor will it lead to other, more serious health concerns.  

The best way to manage sleep paralysis is to avoid 'triggers', such as changing your sleep routine or consuming substances such as drugs/alcohol.  

Ensuring that you are receiving enough high-quality sleep is not only important for avoiding fatigue, but for overall health and wellbeing as well.