If you’re anything like me, then you think that the worst part of sleeping is waking up.
Most mornings, there is nothing I’d rather do than getting in my time machine and go back to the days of being a sleeping baby.
However, there is one situation that makes waking up look like a walk in the park, and that’s waking up and not being able to move. No, I’m not talking about being sluggish in the morning, but about being physically immobilized.
The appropriate term for this phenomena is sleep paralysis. The condition has historically been associated with the feeling of having some heavy creature sitting on your chest. As someone who has experienced this personally, I would add that it also feels like being trapped in your own body.
Although sleep paralysis usually occurs in people ranging in age from 20 to 30, it can happen to anyone at any age and doesn’t necessarily indicate an underlying health issue.
While that is certainly reassuring, it doesn’t necessarily make the experience any more pleasant at the time, but knowing a few facts about it might.
What Is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is fairly self-explanatory. Web MD explains that it’s an indication that your body isn’t moving through its sleep cycles smoothly.
In other words, your head and brain are awake, but your body is still stuck in a state of sleep.
This usually happens either while you are falling asleep or waking up or otherwise between stages of consciousness.
Sign #1: Unable To Move
One of the most terrifying feelings for any person is being trapped.
Being trapped inside your own body and being unable to move is arguably even worse.
This is, of course, where the paralysis part of the condition comes in.
You may try to move, but feel heavy and like your body isn’t responding to your brain.
Some people also report a tight chest or difficulty breathing — likely from the accompanied feeling of helplessness and panic.
Sign #2: You Can’t Speak
The same way you can’t move your body, you also won’t be able to move your mouth.
It is equally as terrifying to try to call out for help and hear nothing but silence, as it is to not be able to move.
You may also feel like you can’t get enough air to make any sound at all.
Sign #3: Weird Dreams or Hallucinations
Nightmares are the worst, but hallucinating during sleep paralysis will almost make you wish for a nightmare instead.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep paralysis occurs “between dream sleep and wakefulness.”
Therefore, your dreams feel more vivid, even though they are technically hallucinations.
The combination of not being able to move and generally being terrified make for some eerie possibilities.
Throughout history, many people have reported a “demon” or “hag” sitting on their chest, keeping them from moving.
Prevention Tip #1: Regulate Your Sleep Schedule
In order to prevent this from happening to you again, or in the first place, there are some easy steps you can take.
WebMD cites lack of sleep and an irregular sleep schedule as some of the leading causes of sleep paralysis.
This makes a lot of sense considering it’s technically your body not moving properly through your sleep cycles.
To prevent this, keep your sleep schedule fairly regular and make sure you’re getting enough sleep in the first place.
Prevention Tip #2: Relax
Relaxing is something that is often easier said than done, but it’s a great way to avoid sleep paralysis.
Stress and anxiety contribute to sleep paralysis many of the same ways that they create nightmares.
Prevention Tip #3: Talk To Your Doctor
Sleep paralysis is common and found in up to four out of 10 people, and doesn’t usually indicate any medical problems.
However, it is possible that sleep paralysis as a recurring problem is associated with bipolar disorder or narcolepsy.
If sleep paralysis is becoming a big problem in your life, you might want to talk to your doctor anyway.
Prevention Tip #4: Don’t Sleep On Your Back
One way you can help prevent sleep paralysis is by trying not to sleep on your back.
The Sleep Paralysis Project reports that research shows most episodes occur when sleeping on your back.
Even though you may not have control of your tossing and turning once you’ve already fallen asleep, you might want to make a conscious effort to fall asleep on your stomach to give yourself the best chance.
Prevention Tip #5: Know That It Is A Physical Problem
When I first began having the occasional sleep paralysis episode, I felt like I was dying, or being visited by demons at night.
At the time, I didn’t know what sleep paralysis was and sometimes, since it would happen in the middle of the night, I would barely remember it in the morning.
However, it is an extremely comforting thought, even for a brain that is still half asleep, to know that it is a physical problem from which I will wake, given time.
Sleep paralysis isn’t and will by no means ever be comfortable, but being aware of the issue does make it slightly less terrifying.
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