When you sleep, your brain keeps track of what’s going on in the rest of your body. It records every thought, movement, and sensation. And it uses the information to prepare you for waking up.
Sleep paralysis causes your body to move the same way it would if you were awake. But your brain doesn’t record it that way. In fact, your brain doesn’t even know you’re sleeping.
This is because your brain does all the recording and keeps track of what happens. It uses the information to wake you up and prepare you for the day.
But sleep paralysis isn’t a sleep-related condition. It’s a neurological condition.
People who have sleep paralysis often say they feel like they’re “in a dream.”
Keep reading to learn more about sleep paralysis and what causes it.
What are the symptoms of sleep paralysis?
Sleep paralysis happens when you’re dreaming but can’t wake up. This can happen when you:
- Are partially awake or partially asleep when you experience sleep paralysis
- Have a bad night of sleep
- Are dreaming about something you know isn’t real
This can happen in one or more parts of your body.
The following are the most common symptoms of sleep paralysis. But each person may experience it differently.
People who have sleep paralysis may feel like they’re in a dream or a nightmare. They may feel like they can’t wake up or can’t move.
When they try to move, they may feel paralyzed or “in a dream.”
Sometimes they may feel like they’re watching their body from the outside. They may be able to see their own body moving. You may see your brain’s activity, too.
You may feel like you’re in a different place. You may even see a part of the dream environment.
Sleep paralysis can cause you to feel paralyzed or “in a dream” even though you’re still awake. During sleep paralysis, you may also feel:
- As if you’re in a dream even though you’re still awake
- As if you can’t move
- As if you’re watching yourself from the outside
You could also feel as if you’re having a bowel movement.
You may be able to feel your legs moving, but you may not be able to move them.
You may be able to move your arms but not have any sensation in your arms.
You may feel like you’re lying down. You may not be able to move your head or neck.
You may not be able to move your face.
You may not be able to move your eyes.
How is sleep paralysis diagnosed?
If you have sleep paralysis, your doctor may diagnose it by ruling out sleep disorders.
If you have a sleep disorder, your doctor may ask you some questions. This may include:
- What time you went to bed
- Did you get up at all during the night
- Did you dream
- Did your bed have any unusual features
- Did your legs move at any point
- What time you woke up
Your doctor may use a few different tests to diagnose sleep paralysis. These tests include:
- Polysomnography. A polysomnography involves wearing a custom-made sleep monitoring device for several nights to record brain waves and eye movements.
- Brain wave monitoring. Brain wave monitoring involves wearing a special device to record the brain waves.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG). This test records the brain’s electrical activity during sleep, which can help your doctor determine how well your brain is working during sleep.
- Electromyography (EMG). This test records the electrical activity of muscles.
- Polygraph. In this test, you’re asked to lie still while a technician watches your face to see if you have a response to questions about your sleep.
How is sleep paralysis treated?
Treatments for sleep paralysis vary depending on what’s causing it. In some cases, your doctor may not treat sleep paralysis.
If you have sleep paralysis, your doctor may treat it with:
- A sedative. This is often the first treatment a doctor will try. The sedative can help you relax, and you may fall asleep during the procedure.
- Antiseizure medications. These are often used to help treat restless legs syndrome (RLS) and epilepsy.
- Benzodiazepine. These medications can help you fall asleep.
- Beta blockers. These medications can help you relax.
- Muscle relaxants. These can help you relax your muscles.
You may also need to use a sleep guard to keep you from moving while you sleep. This may help if you have RLS.
You may need to take medications for the rest of your life to help you fall asleep.
Sleep paralysis is a rare condition. It’s estimated that less than 10 percent of people who have sleep paralysis actually have an underlying sleep disorder.
How can I prevent sleep paralysis?
There are some things you can do to prevent sleep paralysis.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before bed.
- Avoid eating large meals before bed.
- Avoid eating late at night.
- Limit screen time before bed.
- Exercise at least five hours before bed.
- Avoid eating high-sodium foods.
- Avoid caffeine and tobacco before bed.
- Sleep with a partner.
If you have a sleep disorder, such as RLS, you should see your doctor to make sure you don’t have sleep paralysis again.
What can I do to help my partner?
If you’re experiencing sleep paralysis with your partner, you may want to try speaking to your partner’s doctor. It might be time to see a sleep specialist.
If you’re unsure of the cause of your sleep paralysis, your doctor may be able to help.
Ask your doctor to refer you to a sleep specialist or sleep neurologist.
Sleep specialists are doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. They may be able to help you figure out the cause of your sleep paralysis.
You may also want to ask your doctor if there’s a medication that you can try. Many people find sleep medications helpful in preventing sleep paralysis.
Sleep medications can be purchased over the counter or can be prescribed by your doctor, but they can be expensive.
You may also want to ask your doctor if there’s a sleep disorder that you could have.
Sleep paralysis is a type of sleep disorder. It’s characterized by a feeling of being in a dream but not being able to wake up.
Sleep paralysis can happen in one or more parts of your body. Or it may happen when you’re dreaming while you’re partially awake.
This can happen when you’re on your side or on your back. It can also happen in a different part of your body, too.
Sleep paralysis is sometimes called sleep terror, sleep hallucinations, sleep terror attack, or sleep terror paralysis.
There are a few different kinds of sleep paralysis. But most people only experience brief episodes of sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis can happen at any time of the day. You may wake up from it during the night.
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