It has been estimated that up to 40% of people have experienced sleep paralysis at some time in their lives, even though many other people have never heard it talked about. Some people may even experience it but then have little memory of the experience. Sleep paralysis is commonly noticed at first during people in their teenage years, but it can occur at any age and may be linked with the occurrence of other health problems as people get older. There may be also some tendency for sleep paralysis to run in families but the documentation of this is unclear.
In addition to running in families, some other factors that may be related to the condition of sleep paralysis are:
- Changing sleep schedules
- Insomnia or other REM sleep disorders
- Back sleeping
- Nighttime leg cramping
- Certain medication usage, particularly for ADHD
- Bipolar disorder or other mental conditions
- Substance abuse
What is Sleep Paralysis?
As the name indicates, sleep paralysis is simply the feeling of being conscious and aware of your surroundings, but without the ability to move. This can happen for a person who is transitioning between sleep phases into phases of wakefulness, but the person is unable to speak or move for a period of a few seconds or up to a few minutes. Some people who experience this uncomfortable state also report feeling a sense of pressure, choking, or inability to breathe—which is usually unrelated to any physical problems of actual paralysis.
Two types of sleep paralysis have been distinguished. When a person experiences this during times of falling asleep, it is referred to as “predormital” or “hypnagogic” sleep paralysis. When it occurs as the person is waking up, this is referred to as “postdormital” or “hypnopompic” sleep paralysis.
Why Does Sleep Paralysis Occur?
Sleep paralysis fits into a broader category of intriguing sleeping disorders that are referred to as Parasomnias. This category also include other unique and often abnormal sleep incidences such as night terrors (hallucinations that begin during sleep and continue into wakefulness), grinding of the teeth (bruxism), sleep walking, or even eating during sleep.
Although many cultures throughout history have linked sleep problems with terrifying evil creatures (particularly related to nightmares or night terrors), in most cases sleep paralysis is not a psychiatric problem. Usually it is believed to be simply a physical problem related to a sleeping disorder. As with all parasomnias, sleep paralysis can be difficult to study and understand because of the fact that it happens at night while people are sleeping.
Many experts believe that sleep paralysis may be a sign that your body is not moving through the sleep cycles as it should be. (According to Web MD) While it is typically scarier to the individual than actually physically harmful, regular occurrences of sleep paralysis may be an indication of another dangers health problem that could be related or even a cause of the condition, which is sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea with Sleep Paralysis
It is estimated that about 10% of individuals are affected by parasomnia in their lives, and some of these are probably linked with sleep apnea. Because of the way that it is able to disrupt a variety of your body’s systems, sleep apnea is believed to not only be linked with sleep paralysis and other parasomnias, but may even function as a trigger for these unusual occurrences.
While not a lot of specific studies have been performed on this topic, many people have personally reported experiencing a direct correlation between sleep apnea and sleep paralysis. This may be because sleep apnea causes many nighttime awakenings during REM sleep and NREM sleep, simply because the body is failing to breathe effectively during this time. These added times of wakefulness make it much more likely that a person will have the opportunity to experience semi-consciousness before yet being awake enough to physically move.
It makes a lot of sense that people with sleep apnea would experience sleep paralysis when just waking up. If someone is experiencing sleep paralysis while just falling asleep, this may not be as likely to be related to sleep apnea.
Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea and Sleep Paralysis
If you are a person (or have a partner) who wakes frequently at night for any reason, particularly with the inability to breathe or move, it is critical to seek the attention of a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. Sleep specialists are able to perform sleep studies in their clinics or in your home, providing you with a diagnosis as well as treatment options for your sleep apnea or sleep paralysis.
Medical professionals will need access to a complete medical history when working to diagnosis a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or sleep paralysis, so it’s best to try to get this information for them ahead of time. Because sleep paralysis may run in the family, ask your family members about their experiences with such things. During the process of your diagnosis, you can expect to be asked many questions about how your sleep is affecting your daily life.
At a sleep study clinic, you can also expect to be placed in a room similar to a hotel room (rather than a hospital room) with diagnostic machines present. None of the tests should be painful, but will gain information such as your oxygen levels, brain waves, heartbeat, and other information such as movement of arms and legs. A video camera may be used in order to record unusual behavior such as sleep walking or movement during night terrors.
If your sleep assessment is performed at home (often a more affordable but possibly less reliable option) your experience may include a limited number of the measures that might be taken at the clinic. Your sleep specialist will help you to determine which the options that are best for your situation.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea and Sleep Paralysis
For mild forms of Sleep Apnea and Sleep Paralysis, you may find that natural lifestyle changes might be the most effective. This may include changing to an adjustable mattress, beginning the use of a specialized Sleep Apnea pillow, and changing from sleeping on your back to sleeping on your side or your stomach. Weight loss and healthy eating habits are likely to also be part of your treatment plan.
For more severe forms of Sleep Apnea, medical equipment such as a CPAP breathing machine may be required to allow your body to breathe appropriately. This, in turn, may help your body to move through the stages of the sleep cycle in a more effective manner, hopefully minimizing the occurrences of parasomnias such as sleep paralysis. Many people with severe sleep apnea have reported that the use of a CPAP machine has eliminated their issues with Sleep Paralysis completely.
Sleep paralysis can be scary and sleep apnea can even be dangerous to your health. But the good news is that treatment options are available to restore your body to its normal sleeping patterns and, in turn, return you to a healthier lifestyle.