What is sleep paralysis? Expert reveals how to stop the sleep condition happening

Around 33 percent of our lives are spent asleep. Sleep is crucial for adequate brain function including the process of thinking, creating memories, remembering facts and establishing good forms of communication. Physical health and sleep are very closely linked therefore when you lack in sleep, serious health consequences ensue. Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of a range of serious diseases including heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer.


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But many people may find their sleep disrupted at times. Some people experience sleep paralysis. 

Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online explained: “Sleep paralysis is a surprisingly common condition affecting around 80 percent of the population.

“As a definition, sleep paralysis occurs when people find, that either – as they drift off to sleep, or, as they gradually wake up – they are unable to physically move their body, despite being aware of their surroundings.

“However, they can breathe in and out and move their eyes as normal.

“When this happens, it can be quite frightening with some sufferers reporting feelings of evil or foreboding.

“Hallucinations have also been reported, such as a feeling of pressure, like a hand pressing down on their chest.”

The different types of sleep paralysis

There are different types of sleep paralysis, accoridng to Dr Lee. 

She said: “People who suffer from narcolepsy – a condition of intractable daytime sleepiness – are more likely to have sleep paralysis.

“Sometimes it may be specifically termed ‘fearful sleep paralysis’ if it is associated with anxiety or fear.”

Sleep paralysis is also associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sleep apnoea, night-time leg cramps and insomnia.

Dr Lee added: “PTSD sufferers often get flashbacks which may occur in the form of hallucinations during periods of sleep paralysis.

“Those who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders are also more likely to have sleep paralysis.”


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How to prevent sleep paralysis

Many people with sleep paralysis have poor sleep quality.

But sleep hygiene can improve quality of sleep and improve sleep paralysis.

Dr Lee advised: “The term hygiene is not to do with being clean but rather involves keeping the bedroom cool, not drinking alcohol before going to bed and getting into a good pattern of going to bed and getting up at similar times each day.

“Treating underlying stress and anxiety is advisable.

“There have been some promising results from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) although this has not been categorically proven.

“There is no convincing evidence that medication improves sleep paralysis, however, some specialists prescribe serotonin reuptake inhibitors like sertraline or fluoxetine.”

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