Around 8% of people are known to have experienced a very peculiar sensation where they wake up during the night and find themselves unable to move or even speak. This condition, known as sleep paralysis, is unnerving whenever it happens, and how you experience it can depend on a number of factors. And as it affects at least one in thirteen people (rising to one in four among college students), it’s worth looking into the facts about sleep paralysis.
It may have affected you without you realizing what it was
Sleep paralysis is, by its nature, hard to study and hard to follow. You can’t prepare yourself for it to happen, because it doesn’t happen every night. When it does strike, you’ll be asleep, and not in a position to observe what’s going on. If you sleep on your own, and there is no-one there to speak to after an incident, you may have a moment of paralysis, gone back to sleep and put it down to a troublesome dream.
It’s more common if you have an irregular sleep pattern
We don’t really know what actually causes sleep paralysis, but one thing that tends to link cases is that they happen when a person’s sleep is disturbed. Among the studies that have taken place, data shows that episodes tend to happen to students more often than for the general population. They are also more common among psychiatric patients; one thing these groups have in common is a higher incidence of unusual sleep patterns.
Some health conditions make them more likely
Unsurprisingly, given the above information, there are some prior health conditions that make a person more likely to have episodes of sleep paralysis. If you have suffered from narcolepsy, and are prone to excessive daytime sleepiness and involuntary napping, you may well experience occasional episodes. People with sleep apnea are also more prone, so if you have noticed repeated episodes, it is worth seeking out sleep apnea treatment and seeing if the incidents become less frequent or even go away entirely.
Episodes may be accompanied by hallucinations
It’s hard to say exactly why – it may be a consequence of being somewhere between sleep and full wakefulness – but if you experience sleep paralysis, there is a decent chance that it will be accompanied by a hallucination of some sort. These may include believing you are being watched over by a dark, shapeless presence, or that something is sitting on your chest. You may also experience auditory hallucinations such as humming or hissing.
Sleep paralysis is harmless on its own
If you experience sleep paralysis, you are likely to wake up feeling at the very least a little bit weirded out, and possibly just plain terrified. The important thing to remember is that potentially as many as 50% of people will have an incident at some point, and that the episodes are entirely harmless in and of themselves.
They may indicate a sleep issue that you need to pursue for the good of your health, but an incident of sleep paralysis will not affect you physically and is not accompanied by any increased vulnerability to illness or injury. Keep this in mind, as it can be helpful to remember in the immediate aftermath of an incident.