Sleep paralysis: understanding it to live it better

What are the symptoms of sleep paralysis?

As its name suggests, sleep paralysis is an episode that occurs during the night, during which the person is awake but can no longer move his arms and legs. “It occurs during the paradoxical sleep phase, namely the phase of dreamlike dreams and nightmares, during which there is a lot of alternation between dreaming and waking” explains the neurologist.
Sleep paralysis is one of the sleeping troubles, and more specifically parasomnias. It can take place when falling asleep, hypnagogic paralysis, or upon waking, hypnopompic paralysis.

The people affected are therefore conscious and awake with intense brain activity, but they are unable to make the slightest movement, they are as if “locked” to their bed, which is extremely distressing.

Sleep paralysis is more common in people with narcolepsy – a sleep disorder characterized by the occurrence of irrepressible drowsiness that can occur at any time of the day.

Are visions or hallucinations common during seizures?

Sleep paralysis may be associated with hallucinationswhether visual, auditory, or tactile, which makes them even scarier. Those who experience them may feel like an evil or demonic presence. “These hallucinations are not systematic, and would be more frequent in people with narcoleptics,” says Dr Combres.
Very realistic, these hallucinations would be explained by the fusion of awakened consciousness and fantasies of the unconscious which are expressed particularly in dreams during REM sleep.

How long does sleep paralysis last?

If they can give the impression of persisting for long minutes, sleep paralysis is in fact short duration, and usually cease after a few seconds to a minute.

Explanations and causes: what is nocturnal paralysis due to?

If they may seem extraordinary or even supernatural for some people who experience them, sleep paralysis stems from a physiological phenomenon and can therefore be explained in a completely rational way. During the phase of REM sleep, the brain sends a message to the marrow via a neurotransmitter called glycine, which aims to inhibit the movement of the muscles of the body: this is called muscle atony. “This muscle atony is intended to prevent us from ”living” our dreams by gesticulating during the night” explains the neurologist. The only muscles that remain active are the eye muscles and the respiratory muscles.
In some people, this phenomenon of muscle atony takes a while to dissipatehence the occurrence of these conscious nocturnal paralysis during this period of time.

Certain factors would also favor the occurrence of these paralysis:

– Poor sleep hygiene, with irregular sleep schedules, going to bed too late and poor quality sleep,
– Narcolepsy,
– Sleep apnea,
– The stress and anxiety,
– The consumption of drugs or certain medications,
– Overwork,
– A sudden change in lifestyle…

Since sleep paralysis is a very brief phenomenon that can be explained physiologically, it is not possible to get out of it voluntarily before it ends spontaneously.

On the other hand, it is possible to live it better, by being aware of its benign character, and by trying to let go the time to regain possession of your body and its movements.

“What is very distressing is above all not understanding what is happening and not knowing what the outcome of this crisis will be“explains the somnologist. Putting a name on it, understanding the mechanism and trying as much as possible to relax, make these episodes more bearable for those who experience them.

He there is no medical treatment for sleep paralysis, when not associated with narcolepsy. When they occur on a regular and recurrent basis, sleep paralysis is most often the reflection of a sleep disorderand therefore poor nocturnal hygiene.
“It is possible to limit them by following all the advice for preventing sleep disorders” emphasizes Dr Combres.
– Go to bed at regular times,
– Avoid screens before going to bed,
– Limit stimulants, alcohol and tobacco in the evening,
– Favor relaxing activities (reading, meditation) and avoid practicing intense sport in the evening,
– Have a light dinner, and avoid dishes that are too high in fat, which take longer to digest,
– Forget too hot showers or baths at bedtime,
– Practice techniques of relaxation before falling asleep…

If sleep paralysis is related to narcolepsy, treatment of the latter may decrease the occurrence of episodes of nocturnal paralysis.

What are the dangers of sleep paralysis?

Although it can be experienced as an impression of imminent deathsleep paralysis is a phenomenon totally benignwhich poses no risk to health and cannot lead to any complications.

Can you lucid dream during sleep paralysis?

“We speak of lucid dreaming when a person is conscious of dreaming, succeeds in take possession of your dream and to influence its course. It is studied a lot, and is used in the treatment of recurring nightmares after post-traumatic stress for example” explains the neurologist. In the case of sleep paralysis, it is a little different because the person is conscious and therefore awake : so we can not really set up this lucid dream. On the other hand, being aware of the benign nature of what is happening, and try to relax with pleasant images and positive thoughts, is a good way to experience these episodes of sleep paralysis more serenely.

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