Imagine this: You’re lying in bed and about to fall asleep, when suddenly you can’t move your body and you feel like something is sitting on your chest. You might see an ambiguous dark cloud or spirit hovering above you. Every generation has its own culprit. Throughout history, people have blamed this phenomenon on demons, aliens and supernatural spirits of all shapes and sizes. However, the reality is a bit less mystical and pretty anticlimactic. You’re experiencing a medical condition called sleep paralysis. What causes it and how can it be avoided?
Sleep Paralysis Causes
Sleep paralysis happens when something goes wrong in your REM cycle. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep occurs within the first couple of hours after drifting off. Since most dreams occur within REM sleep, the body has mechanisms to prevents accidents from occurring.
During this stage, your body is temporarily paralyzed so you don’t run around the room and injure yourself while dreaming. Sleep paralysis occurs when you have drifted off into REM sleep but for some reason, your mind remains awake.
This ambiguous state can cause you to hallucinate and envision that there’s something crushing your body. Before you start calling the ghostbusters, however, you should understand that this is just your mind playing tricks on you and it will most likely be over within 1-2 minutes. Why does this happen?
There are numerous sleep paralysis causes. Here are a few:
- Sleep deprivation: When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more susceptible to disruptions in your rest cycle. In addition, experiencing jet lag, anxiety and stress can make your sleep quality worse and subsequently make you more susceptible to sleep paralysis.
- Sleeping on your back: The majority of people who experience sleep paralysis say it happens when they sleep on their back.
- Napping: Experts claim that napping can make you more susceptible to sleep paralysis.
- Narcolepsy: Sleep paralysis is a symptom of narcolepsy—a disorder in which people perpetually drift off into sleep during the day and at random.
- Sleep Apnea: Sleep paralysis has been linked to sleep apnea cases. Sleep apnea is when you have difficulty breathing during sleep.
Since some of these conditions are potentially fairly serious, it is critical that you contact a physician if you experience chronic sleep paralysis.
Preventing Sleep Paralysis
When you’re experiencing sleep paralysis, the only thing you can do to make it better is to breathe and calm down. During your first experience, you might be genuinely terrified. But once you’ve experienced it, you’ll be self-aware of what’s actually happening. While preventing sleep paralysis completely may be impossible, there are plenty of things you can do to help make yourself less susceptible. Most importantly is improving your sleep quality, which in involve several lifestyle and dietary changes. Here are a few:
- Change your diet: Stop consuming caffeine, alcohol or big meals before bed. All three can make your sleep quality worse and therefore lead to sleep paralysis.
- Cut down on screen time: Some experts believe that using laptops and smartphones before bed can have a detrimental effect on your sleep. Try putting your phone on AirPlane mode or simply turning it off and using a good old-fashion alarm clock instead.
- Exercise: Exercise generally improves your sleep quality.
- Therapy: If the root of your insomnia is due to anxiety, stress or depression, you should consider going to see a therapist to discuss these issues. With psychological treatment, you can improve your sleep and make sleep paralysis a thing of the past.
There are numerous methods to improving sleep. In addition to those strategies, you could try taking vitamins. Ours contain melatonin, chamomile and L-theanine—three chemicals that can help you get a good night’s rest. Though sleep paralysis can be a symptom of something serious, experiencing it irregularly is mostly normal.