I remember waking up and recounting the episode as immensely terrifying.
What I thought was a consequence of exam stress, was actually sleep paralysis.
What is Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a state of inability to move your limbs or speak while waking up from sleep. In this state, the person's mind is awake and aware, but the body is still asleep, according to the National Health Service, United Kingdom.
This may last only a few seconds or a couple of minutes, but it might cause some terrible experiences.
The silence around sleep paralysis is owed to the horrifying nature of this phenomenon – the feeling of being trapped but being able to do absolutely nothing about it.
People find it disturbing because they cannot move or speak while being awake.
It is important to talk about sleep paralysis today because numerous people experience it without knowing what exactly happened.
Why Does It Happen?
Sleep paralysis occurs when the mind “wakes up” and becomes aware before the body does.
Although occasional sleep paralysis is not considered a serious medical problem, there are quite a few reasons why it may occur:
Sleep deprivation and an unstable sleeping routine
Extreme stress and tension
Other mental health issues like bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders
Medication for mental health issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Sleep disorders like Narcolepsy or Sleep Apnea
A family history of sleep paralysis
"Sleep disorders and other sleeping problems have shown some of the strongest correlations with isolated sleep paralysis. Higher rates of sleep paralysis – 38 percent in one study – are reported by people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder of repeated lapses in breathing. Sleep paralysis also has been found to be more common in people with night-time leg cramps," Sleep Foundation has said.
Types of Sleep Paralysis
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two types of sleep paralysis – one that occurs before sleep, and one after sleep.
While falling asleep, the body slowly relaxes. If the mind becomes aware while falling asleep, the person may feel that they are not able to speak or move. This is called 'Hypnagogic Sleep Paralysis'.
While sleeping, our bodies go through REM (rapid-eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). When the NREM deep sleep stage ends, our sleep shifts to REM, during which dreams occur, according to the National Institutes of Health in the United States.
Although the eyes move during this phase, the rest of the body is relaxed and still in the sleeping mode.
If a person’s mind becomes aware before the REM stage has ended, they may feel that they are not able to move or speak despite being awake. This is called 'Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis'.
Dr Sahil Kohli, the senior consultant of Neurology at Gurugram's Max Hospital, told Hindustan Times,
“It can be alarming, especially the first time, to be unable to move or talk for a short period of time during one of these changes of stages. Awareness is maintained during the episode and one may have no difficulty recalling it afterward."
What to Do If You Are Having Episodes Of Sleep Paralysis?
First and foremost, consult a medical expert – who can diagnose whether it is narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or sleep paralysis. Treatment should be sought accordingly.
Studies show that there is not much one can do during an episode of sleep paralysis. However, there is some preliminary evidence that meditation relaxation therapy may be a method to break the paralysis.
One of the best ways to avoid sleep paralysis is to improve the quality of your sleep, suggests Sleep Foundation. This can be done by:
Limiting exposure to blue and white light in the evening
Avoiding sleeping on the back
Inculcating meditation into the daily routine for relaxation and mindfulness
Avoiding stress and trying to get proper sleep at night