Causes of sleep paralysis: what is it and how to get rid of it

Causes of sleep paralysis: what is it and how to get rid of it
Causes of sleep paralysis: what is it and how to get rid of it


Imagine that you wake up in the middle of the night to an abstract figure with blood dripping from its fangs. You try to scream, but you can't. You can't move a single muscle! If this sounds familiar, you may have experienced some form of sleep paralysis, which includes the inability to move or speak when falling asleep or awake and is often accompanied by hallucinations. About one in five people experience sleep paralysis at least once. But despite its prevalence, it has remained largely a mystery. For centuries, cultures around the world have attributed these hallucinations to black magic, mythical beasts, and even supernatural activities. Scholars have since rejected such explanations, but these cultural beliefs persist. In fact, my and colleagues' research, conducted over nearly a decade in six different countries, indicates that beliefs about sleep paralysis can shape the physical and psychological experience in a significant way, revealing an astonishing type of mind-body interaction.

Sleep researchers have concluded that, in most cases, sleep paralysis is just a sign that your body isn't moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. Rarely, sleep paralysis is associated with deep psychological problems.

Over the centuries, the symptoms and causes of sleep paralysis have been described in many ways and are often attributed to an "evil" existence: the unseen night demons of antiquity, the ancient pilgrim in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and alien hijackers. Almost every culture throughout history has stories of mysterious evil creatures terrifying helpless humans at night. People have long sought explanations for this mysterious bedtime paralysis and the accompanying feelings of terror.


What is sleep paralysis.. definition of sleep paralysis


Sleep paralysis is when you feel conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between the phases of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may not be able to move or speak for a few seconds even a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a choking sensation. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an urgent need for sleep caused by a problem with the brain's ability to regulate sleep.


Causes of sleep paralysis


Sleep paralysis occurs when you cannot move your muscles while awake or asleep. This is because you are in sleep mode but your mind is active.


It's not clear why sleep paralysis occurs but it has been linked to:


  • Insomnia
  • Disturbed sleep patterns  for example, due to shift work or jet lag
  • Narcolepsy - a long-term condition that causes a person to fall asleep suddenly
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • A family history of sleep paralysis.


When does sleep paralysis usually occur?


Sleep paralysis usually occurs in one of these conditions:


If you first fall asleep, it is called hypnagogic, hypnotic or delusional sleep paralysis.

Or, if it occurs before waking up, it is called hypnopompic or post-sleep paralysis.


What happens during sleep paralysis?


  • When you fall asleep, your body slowly relaxes.
  • You usually become less aware, so you don't notice the change.
  • However, if you stay still or realize during sleep, you may notice that you cannot move or speak.
  • You will find that you are awake but cannot move, speak or open your eyes
  • You will find someone in your room
  • You will feel like something is pushing you down
  • You will find that you are afraid
  • This condition can last for several minutes.


Scientific explanation for sleep paralysis


Sleep paralysis is caused by what appears to be a fundamental defect in the brain in the interaction between wakefulness and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM, you have intensely vivid dreams. To prevent you from carrying out these realistic dreams (and hurting yourself!), your brain has a clever solution: It temporarily paralyzes your entire body. In fact, your brain has a "switch" (a handful of neurochemicals) that tilts between sleep and wakefulness. Sometimes the 'switch' fails  your brain unintentionally wakes up while your body is still under the 'bout' of REM paralysis, leaving you stuck in a paradoxical state between two parallel realities: wakefulness and REM sleep. During sleep paralysis, lucid REM dreams “transfer” into waking consciousness like a dream that comes alive right before your eyes characters with fangs and all.


Who suffers or gets sleep paralysis?


Up to four in 10 people may experience sleep paralysis. This common condition is often first noticed in the teenage years. But men and women of any age can get it. Sleep paralysis may run in families. Other factors that may be associated with sleep paralysis include:


Lack of sleep

Sleep schedule that changes

Mental conditions such as stress or bipolar disorder

sleep on the back

Other sleep problems such as narcolepsy or nighttime leg cramps

Use of certain medications, such as those for ADHD

Effects of some types of drugs and drugs.


How is recurrent sleep paralysis diagnosed?


If you find yourself unable to move or speak for a few seconds or minutes when falling asleep or waking up, you likely have recurrent, isolated sleep paralysis. Often there is no need to treat this condition.


Consult your doctor if you have any of these concerns:


You are concerned about your symptoms

Your symptoms leave you very tired during the day

Your symptoms are keeping you awake at night

Your doctor may want to gather more information about your sleep health by doing any of the following:


Ask you to describe your symptoms and keep a sleep diary for a few weeks

Discuss your health history, including any known sleep disorders or any family history of sleep disorders

Refer you to a sleep specialist for further evaluation

Do nocturnal sleep studies or daytime naps to make sure you don't have another sleep disorder.


How is sleep paralysis treated?


Most people do not need treatment for sleep paralysis. Treating any underlying conditions, such as narcolepsy, may help if you're anxious or unable to sleep well. These treatments may include:


Improving sleep habits  such as making sure you get six to eight hours of sleep each night

Use antidepressant medication if prescribed to help regulate sleep cycles

Treat any mental health problems that may contribute to sleep paralysis

Treat any other sleep disturbances, such as narcolepsy or leg cramps.


Sleep paralysis and the jinn .. the gathoom in the cultures of peoples.


These hallucinations which often involve seeing and sensing intruders from the ghost bedroom  are interpreted differently around the world. In Egypt, sleep paralysis is often thought to be caused by the jinn ("genie")  a supernatural creature that terrorizes and sometimes kills its victims. In Italy, some interpret sleep paralysis as an assault by a so-called Pandafeche, a character described as a malevolent witch or a terrifying giant cat. In South Africa, the indigenous people believe that the cause of this condition is segatelelo (black magic), which includes pygmy-like creatures called tokoloshe, and in Turkey, the Karabasan are mysterious, spirit-like creatures. In contrast, the Danes offer a less creative explanation: they largely attribute sleep paralysis to physiological risk factors such as stress.

These explanations  both scientific and exciting  could have a profound impact on how people develop sleep paralysis. When directly comparing the phenomenon in Egypt and Denmark, we find that the Egyptians fear it more than the Danes. In fact, more than 50 percent of Egyptians who experienced the condition were convinced that sleep paralysis was fatal. The Egyptians also believed that the episodes lasted longer remarkably, they occurred three times more for this group. Beliefs about sleep paralysis among Egyptians seem to have greatly shaped their experience. Those who attributed it to supernatural powers experienced greater fear of experience and longer paralysis. There was a pattern revealing itself. Associated with certain beliefs, sleep paralysis has gone from a simple "brain malfunction" to a chronic, prolonged and deadly supernatural event.


Exciting studies on the causes of sleep paralysis


These explanations  both scientific and exciting  could have a profound impact on how people develop sleep paralysis. When directly comparing the phenomenon in Egypt and Denmark, we find that the Egyptians fear it more than the Danes. In fact, more than 50 percent of Egyptians who experienced the condition were convinced that sleep paralysis was fatal. The Egyptians also believed that the episodes lasted longer remarkably, they occurred three times more for this group. Beliefs about sleep paralysis among Egyptians seem to have greatly shaped their experience. Those who attributed it to supernatural powers experienced greater fear of experience and longer paralysis. There was a pattern revealing itself. Associated with certain beliefs, sleep paralysis has gone from a simple "brain malfunction" to a chronic, prolonged and deadly supernatural event.


Causes of sleep paralysis: between myth and reality


The question was whether the results could be replicated. Italians also have amazing cultural beliefs about the origin of sleep paralysis. More than a third of Abruzzo's residents believe their sleep paralysis may be caused by the Pandafeche creature. Like the Egyptians, the Italians also frequently experienced sleep paralysis, with prolonged paralysis and an excessive fear of experiencing. In both groups, beliefs about the disorder led to an increase in symptoms in a strange mind-body interaction with "nocebolike" effects. Active imagination has an amazing ability to shape physiological experiences.

Based on these findings, it appears that the more people fear sleep paralysis, the more they are exposed to it, and the greater its effects. What were once thought to be benign, even innovative, beliefs have transformed this disorder, eliciting conditioned fear and coloring the content of hallucinations. Anxiety and stress predispose people to a seizure, so those who fear it are more likely to have it. In fact, sleep paralysis is almost more common in Egypt than in Denmark. And as it was discovered in Italy, those who believe that their sleep paralysis may have a supernatural cause are also more likely to experience hallucinations during an attack - including experiencing phantom "perceptible presence". Once sleep paralysis occurs, it is subsequently interpreted through the lens of fear, leading to more anxiety and unwanted awakenings  and effectively, more sleep paralysis. This vicious cycle  which I call the “panic hallucination model”  continues to feed on itself until sleep paralysis becomes chronic, long-term, and, worst of all, possibly mental illness.

Our new findings raise the intriguing possibility that sleep paralysis, if accompanied by certain beliefs, is not only frightening, but can also be distressing. The effects can last long after the seizure is over. Notably, in one of the studies conducted in Egypt, we found that people who experienced this phenomenon had elevated symptoms of trauma and anxiety, compared to those who had not experienced it before. Those with visual hallucinations  seeing "devil beings," they say  are most at risk. In another study in Abruzzo, my colleagues and I recently showed that fear during sleep paralysis, and fear of dying from a seizure, are associated with symptoms of trauma and depression. These findings suggest that when understood through a particular cultural filter, the disorder can cause psychopathology.


What do I do about sleep paralysis?


No need to be afraid of night demons or alien kidnappers. If you suffer from occasional sleep paralysis, you can take steps at home to control the disorder. Start by making sure you get enough sleep. Do whatever you can to relieve stress in your life  especially right before bed. Try new sleeping positions if you sleep on your back. And be sure to check with your doctor if sleep paralysis routinely prevents you from getting a good night's sleep.


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