If you have ever experienced sleep paralysis, you know that this frightening phenomenon can induce overwhelming feelings of helplessness and fear. During these episodes, you have probably wondered can you die from sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is best described as the inability to move your body while falling asleep or waking from sleep. During this state, your mind is awake but you are unable to move your arms, legs, body and head. You are able to breathe, but some people report a feeling of breathlessness and tightness in the chest.
Sleep paralysis occurs in some people only once or twice in their lifetime. In others, it’s a regular occurrence every few weeks or months. Some may even experience it a few times a night. Younger people in their teens and twenties seem to experience a higher rate of sleep paralysis than any other age group.
The science behind sleep paralysis revolves around REM sleep. During sleep, you experience two different sleep cycles – REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). During NREM, your body relaxes and prepares for REM sleep. In REM sleep, your eyes move quickly and the dream state sets in.
Sleep paralysis occurs when you “wake up” during the REM stage. Your body is relaxed but your mind is still moving through the REM stage of sleep.
Sleep scientists believe that sleep paralysis may be genetic. It can be considered a symptom of narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder. Other factors that may lead to sleep paralysis include a disruptive sleep schedule or stress. Scientists do not believe that sleep paralysis is linked to any other serious conditions.
What is Sleep Paralysis Like?
Imagine that you are completely awake but you are unable to speak, open your eyes, or move any of your body parts. This is what sleep paralysis feels like.
People describe sleep paralysis as very frightening experience in which they have no control to move their body parts. This feeling may last for a second or two or may extend for a few minutes.
Some people have also described feeling the presence of someone or something in the room. It has been described like a paranormal experience, with no explanation for the feeling. Scientists believe that some people experience a type of hallucination during this time as the mind is still in a type of dream state.
In fact, many cultures throughout history have given names to this feeling of a presence in the room during a paralysis episode. The Old Hag in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an example of the representation of a hallucination during sleep paralysis.
Other people who have experienced sleep paralysis feel like a heavy weight is planted on their chest. In reality, sleep paralysis does not cause any issues with breathing. In fact, the diaphragm is one part of the body that still functions during a sleep paralysis episode.
Sleep paralysis typically happens just as a person is waking or falling asleep. In the simplest terms, your mind and your body are not in sync during this time. Your mind is fully awake and engaged, while your body either has not yet woken up or not yet fallen asleep.
How to Get Out of Sleep Paralysis
If you find yourself in the throes of sleep paralysis, your first instinct may be to tense up in fear. In reality, the best way to get out of sleep paralysis is to relax your body. But that’s easier said than done when you awake to this frightening phenomenon, especially if it’s your first experience with sleep paralysis.
Relaxing your body and controlling your breathing are two of the most effective ways to get out of this state. Pay attention to your breathing. Most people tend to hold their breath or take shallow breathes. Breathing is the one thing that you can control at that moment and deep breathing will help to get you out of the paralysis.
Another trick is to gently move your fingers, toes, eyes or lips. Your big muscle groups are ones that are immobile, but your extremities and smaller muscle groups can move. Trying to move these body parts can help to get your body out of the paralyzed state.
Remain calm. The more that you try to fight the paralysis, hold your breath, or panic, the more intense the experience will become. Stay calm, think positively and breathe deeply. Concentrating on your breathing and concentrating on remaining calm will help you to get out of the paralysis state.
How to Avoid Sleep Paralysis
There are triggers for those people who experience sleep paralysis on a regular basis. Some of those triggers can easily be avoided.
Sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns are known to cause episodes of sleep paralysis. If you must work an irregular or rotating shift, make sure to get enough sleep when you can to avoid sleep deprivation. Jet lag can sometimes also cause episodes of sleep paralysis.
If you are prone to sleep paralysis, avoid caffeine and alcohol especially just prior to bed time. Stress has also been found to be a leading contributor to sleep paralysis. Avoiding stress and stressful situations, especially right before bed time, is one way to avoid the effects of sleep paralysis.
Your sleep position could also make you more susceptible to sleep paralysis. Sleeping on your back will increase your chances of experiencing paralysis. Try sleeping on your side or your stomach with these great pillows to avoid the effects of paralysis.
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So can you die from sleep paralysis? Probably not. Although it is a terribly frightening phenomenon, especially the first time you experience it, you are not likely to die from the experience. Your body will continue to allow you to breathe even if your chest is tight. You will snap out of the state within a few seconds with no after effects. The worst of the effects will likely be your fear of experiencing another episode of sleep paralysis.