Silent Fright

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It creeps up on you stealthily; one minute you’re sleeping peacefully and the next you find yourself suddenly awake and left crippled for what feels like eternity.

Sleep paralysis can strike anyone but what may seem like a paranormal experience to most, may actually contain a proper explanation behind its occurrence.

Ever woken up in the middle of the night feeling like you can barely move? Worse still, seeing figures or feeling a heavy compression on your chest that restricts your movement and/or breathing. Sleep paralysis is not a common phenomenon but is known to be happening to some all over the world, regardless of age. 24.1% of students in Iran – a study had been conducted amongst Iranian medical students – were reported to have experienced sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime. Similar results were seen amongst students in other countries, i.e America, Japanese, Kuwait.

In Singapore, a study was conducted at the Sleep Disorder Unit at the Singapore General Hospital over a span of 5 years. Data were collected from a total of 28 patients diagnosed with narcolepsy – sleep paralysis has been long associated with the said disease. Amidst the other conditions found to be linked to narcolepsy, 51.9% was that of sleep paralysis. Even though sleep paralysis is not considered to be a dangerous health problem, it can affect a person mentally or emotionally and might be a factor in preventing a person from performing their everyday tasks normally.

What exactly is it?

Sleep Paralysis is defined as a state of being conscious but unable to move. Some would term it as the “Old Hag Syndrome” where sufferers claim to have experienced demonic visitations by an old hag or a black figure preventing them from normal movements and speech. There is, however, a perfectly acceptable scientific explanation behind this condition.

Sleep paralysis usually occurs during one of two times: while you are falling asleep or while you are waking up. The former is termed pre-dormital sleep paralysis while the latter is called post-dormital sleep paralysis. In pre-dormital sleep paralysis, you notice that you are unable to move or speak as per normal because you are still or have become aware that your body is falling asleep; usually, you would become less aware so you do not notice the transition between being awake and falling asleep. The post-dormital sleep paralysis condition is slightly more complex but circles around the same idea. There are two main cycles in your sleep that your body alternates between the REM (rapid eye movement) and the NREM (non-rapid eye movement). During NREM sleep your body relaxes and restores itself, whereas in the REM sleep your body is still relaxed and your muscles are turned off but your mind starts to dream. Sleep paralysis takes place when you start waking up before the REM cycle finishes. Because your body is still in a relaxed state but your mind is awake, you feel as if you are paralysed.

Hallucinations are a common symptom, besides the paralysed feeling you are left rendered with. These hallucinations come about because sleep paralysis has been linked to mental conditions like stress or bipolar disorder, or other conditions like an irregular sleep schedule, lack of sleep or substance abuse.

Possible causes and Treatments.

There are various factors that contribute to the likelihood of both paralysis and hallucination in this sleep condition. They include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Irregular sleeping schedule
  • Increased stress or mental conditions
  • Sudden changes in the environment or lifestyle
  • Substance or alcohol abuse with lack of sleep

Because sleep paralysis is not a very common occurrence and has not been classified as a serious health problem, treatments are not deemed to be necessary. However, if the condition persists and leaves you feeling anxious about sleeping, thus keeps you up all night and tired during the day, then you should definitely seek help. Doctors, or rather sleep specialists would usually treat sleep paralysis through a couple of methods:

  • Ensuring you get six to eight hours of sleep each night
  • Antidepressants to regulate sleep cycles
  • Treating any mental health problems that may contribute to sleep paralysis
  • Treating other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, linked to sleep paralysis

Whatever the cause, sleep paralysis can be treated so sufferers no longer need to be fearful of sleep. You do not necessarily have to visit a specialist to treat it; in fact, you can start at home. For one, make sure you get enough sleep. Learn ways to cope with stress and calm yourself down, especially before bedtime, so you can ensure sleep paralysis does not take control of you and your life.

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