It sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but sleep paralysis is a very real phenomenon that impacts an estimated 8% of Americans. Unlike dreams or the uncomfortable sensation of being “jerked” awake, sleep paralysis is a rare and sometimes disturbing sleep condition that results in feeling paralyzed but entirely lucid and alert—and often accompanied by sensations and visions akin to a waking nightmare.
Can sleep paralysis kill you? Is there anything you can do to avoid the effects of it? Check out these five fascinating facts about sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is not sleep.
Sleep paralysis isn’t technically sleep, nor is it being awake. The condition occurs somewhere in between—the mind feels lucid and awake, but the body is still flooded with chemicals that keep the body paralyzed during sleep. Sleep paralysis actually results in your senses being more hyper-aware, which is why many experience the feeling of a “weight” on their chest or an inability to breathe.
It often feels like a waking nightmare.
Because your mind is caught in the uncomfortable space between being awake and asleep, your mind will often fill in the blanks with the sensations and visions you might experience during a nightmare. Many report feeling an evil presence near them but just out of sight, while others report actually seeing ghostly or disturbing figures in plain sight, all while they are unable to move.
Sleep paralysis has a long and strange history.
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon that’s been around since the early 19th Century, when theologians and philosophers wrote about what they believed to be a very real demonic experience. For centuries, people believed that sleep paralysis occurred when demons sat on their chests, or in instances of witchcraft or demonic possession. Only later did many decide that bad meat or cheap wine might be the cause.
Scientists still aren’t sure what causes sleep paralysis.
Today, doctors and scientists know that sleep paralysis has to do with the transition between REM and NREM sleep, and is most likely brought on by an interruption in the normal sleep pattern. They know that it may be inherited and that, if you have a twin who has experienced it, the odds are notably higher that you will as well. Despite knowing some of the commonalities among sleep paralysis sufferers, they still aren’t entirely sure what causes the phenomenon in the first place.
Sleep paralysis is more common in students and psychiatric patients.
In a study published by Sleep Medicine Reviews, Brian A. Sharpless of Penn State discovered that students and psychiatric patients were among those most likely to experience sleep paralysis on a somewhat regular basis, and even more so in patients that were diagnosed with a panic disorder. This could come down to their level of stress and overall sleep health.
While there is no current cure for sleep paralysis, ensuring better quality sleep—and reducing sleep disturbances—are two coping mechanisms. Below are straightforward solutions, agreed upon by the sleep experts at Brooklyn Bedding, to potentially alleviate the limbo associated with sleep paralysis.
Ways to cope—and get a better night's sleep in the process
Keep your cool.
One of the top contributors to sleep deprivation, and sleep disturbances, is night sweats—and it’s totally fixable. Materials derived from natural sources, like latex and bamboo, tend to be far more breathable than their synthetic counterparts in everything from mattress foams to pillows and sheets. Cooling gel infusions in mattress foam layers are widely available—and some cooling technologies are so advanced they can gauge your skin temperature and adjust your sleep surface to cool you down as needed.
Maintain your independence.
Hybrid mattresses feature at least two comfort and support systems, typically pairing foam layers with coils to provide the perfect balance of comfort and deep compression support. These days, most innerspring systems offer individually encased, or pocketed, coils: each coil is wrapped in fabric, then joined together as a single unit for greater stability. The independent nature of each coil allows it to react to isolated pressure, minimizing motion transfer between sleep partners. Less sleep disturbance can lead to deeper sleep, which can help you avoid at least one of the pitfalls of sleep paralysis.
Cater to your sleep position.
Finding the perfect sleep solution is dependent on a number of factors—including your sleep position, body type and comfort preferences. The right mattress will provide proper spinal alignment, along with just the right amount of pressure point relief and support to emulate an almost weightless feel.
Generally speaking, side sleepers need a medium to soft comfort level to alleviate pressure points in the lower hip and shoulder areas. Side sleepers also tend to prefer higher loft pillows which cradle the neck and head while elevating the shoulders.
Back sleepers have the most options—anything from a very soft to really firm level may suit you depending on your weight and comfort preferences. Back sleepers also have the latitude to sleep on either high or low profile pillows—though back sleepers who snore should choose a higher loft pillow to help open the airways.
Stomach sleepers typically need a firmer surface to ensure proper support and spinal alignment. They should also look for a lower loft pillow to avoid stiffness and aches and pains in the neck, shoulder and back regions.
Opt for quality with your quantity.
Recent developments in smart fabrics—defined as textiles that can sense and respond to changes in their environment—have led to a number of ways to sleep…smarter. Basically, getting enough hours of sleep is important while getting quality of sleep is paramount.
We’ve talked about the importance of responsive cooling, but there are actually new, advanced fabrics that use thermal energy to help you get a more restorative sleep. A proprietary surface treatment on your mattress cover converts your body heat into Far Infrared Rays, safely emitted back into your body as invisible waves of energy. Why does it work? Because Far Infrared Rays are unique in their ability to penetrate, soothe and stimulate local blood flow, enabling better recovery while you snooze.
Sleep paralysis shouldn’t keep you from getting the sleep of your dreams. If your health is being adversely affected, be sure to talk to your doctor. The full spectrum of sleep paralysis is not only complex, it’s uncertain, but improving the sleep experience is always a win.