The sleep cycle consists of five separate stages of sleep that all produce different types of brain activity. During the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, there is a loss of skeletal muscle tone that renders you unable to move. Most people sleep right through this lack of mobility, but as many as four in ten people experience episodes of sleep paralysis. This means that they are aware of their inability to move. This condition may be accompanied by auditory hallucinations, tingling, and other symptoms. Since these episodes can be frightening, it is only natural to search for a cure. These are the ten questions you must ask when searching for cures for sleep paralysis.
#1: Is my sleep schedule to blame?
Several different factors contribute to this strange phenomenon. One of them is your sleep schedule. It is difficult for the body to adjust to different bedtimes every night. For the highest-quality sleep, you should be going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. If you do not maintain a regular sleep schedule, you could be making your sleep paralysis worse. Even if adjusting your sleep schedule does not reduce the number of sleep paralysis episodes you experience, you may find that you sleep better and wake up feeling more rested.
#2: Should I change my sleeping environment?
Your sleep environment is also very important for getting high-quality sleep. Temperature, noise level, and comfort all play a role in how well you are able to sleep each night. If you experience regular sleep paralysis episodes, try making some changes in your environment. Experiment with the thermostat to see if a different temperature makes things better. Use a white noise machine to block out the sounds of car horns and pedestrian traffic at night.
#3: Is alcohol consumption or drug use a factor?
Alcohol and drug use can affect brain activity, so examining your use of prescription drugs and alcohol can help you determine if there is a connection to your sleep paralysis. If there is, do not drink alcohol several hours before bedtime. Ask your doctor if it is okay to take your medication at a different time or if it would be possible to reduce the dosage. These small changes might be enough to prevent some sleep paralysis episodes.
#4: Do I have any underlying sleep disorders?
In some cases, sleep paralysis is related to narcolepsy or other sleep disorders. If you experience frequent episodes, talk to your doctor about the problem. Your doctor may order an EEG (electroencephalogram) or a sleep study, also known as polysomnography. You may even be asked to complete a home sleep study so the sleep specialist can evaluate your sleep patterns while you are in your regular sleeping environment. Researchers at Wilfred Hall United States Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, have determined that these home sleep studies are a suitable alternative to studies performed in sleep laboratories.
#5: Does my physical or psychological history play a role?
Physical and psychological conditions may cause sleep paralysis episodes or make them worse. Ask yourself if any known psychological or physical conditions may be playing a role in your problem. Bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders may increase the likelihood that you will wake up during the REM stage of sleep. Restless leg syndrome and other disorders can also interrupt sleep and make sleep paralysis episodes more likely.
#6: Is my sleep position to blame?
Your sleep position is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of your sleep. Researchers know that lying on the back worsens snoring and sleep apnea. Now they believe that sleeping on the back may also contribute to episodes of sleep paralysis. Experts recommend putting tennis balls or other lumpy objects under your back so that you sleep on your side instead.
#7: Does my lifestyle make the problem worse?
If you have a stressful lifestyle, you may experience frequent episodes of sleep paralysis. Stress affects brain wave activity and also makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Examine your current lifestyle to determine if stress is making this problem worse. If you identify a particular source of stress, take steps to reduce it or eliminate it completely. Asking for help with personal problems or delegating stressful tasks to colleagues and subordinates may be enough to allow your mind to relax and keep you asleep during the night.
#8: Is there a history of sleep paralysis in my family?
When you seek medical attention for sleep paralysis, your doctor will ask you about your family medical history. If someone else in your family experiences sleep paralysis, it is likely that there is a genetic component to the disorder. Although you cannot change your genes, you can try making the lifestyle changes suggested above to improve the problem.
#9: What are my symptoms?
Keeping a sleep paralysis journal is a great way to document your symptoms and help determine if they are connected to your health or your sleep environment. Writing down the symptoms as they can occur can help you make connections you would not otherwise see.
#10: Is sleep paralysis disrupting my life?
Many people with sleep paralysis never seek treatment because the problem is not severe enough to disrupt their lives. However, chronic sleep paralysis can disrupt your sleep and make you feel tired and groggy the following day. If sleep paralysis is making it difficult to meet the demands of your job or take care of your family, talk to your doctor about the problem. Although your doctor can order the appropriate tests and help you determine the cause of these episodes, you need to take an active role in curing sleep paralysis. Be prepared to make changes to your sleep habits and lifestyle to see if it is possible to reduce or eliminate sleep paralysis entirely.