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Sleep Disorders

Sleep paralysis, help

08/20/2007

Question:

hi, well um i dont normally do things like this but i just woke up from my 4th sleep in a row (overnight, nap, overnight, nap) where sleep paralysis occured. I`ve had it for awhile, it only happening about once every two weeks, for the past 6 weeks, but before that it happening only happend once or twice every month, and before that once or twice every few months. i read somewhere that it peaks between the ages of 16-20 or something along those lines. but im beginning to worry about it due to its rapid increase of not only occurances but the severity of the hallucinations. i`ve dealt with it so i dont really let it bother me, but ive been scared for the past 10 events. also i feel very strange after waking up now, as if ive just gotten shocked or something. i guess where my rambling is leading me is this: i would really like to find out some answers to this whole disorder, i don`t know, help people or something, so if there are any studies being conducted, i`d love to help. I`m turning 19 in about 6 weeks, so i`m not sure if this condition will slow down, speed up, or end. i need some answers. please.

Answer:

You are describing classic episodes of sleep paralysis. Feeling like you cannot move when you awaken can be a frightening sensation. However, you should not feel alone (or worried) as this is extremely common, particularly in your age group. Up to 15-40% of young adults experience this at least once in their lifetime and as many as 5-6% have this occur recurrently.

Sleep paralysis is usually described as the inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset or upon awakening. Individuals often report that they cannot speak or move the limbs, trunk or head. While breathing is actually not affected, the sensation of not being able to breath can accompany the paralysis and can be quite scary. Most individuals will recall the events. The episodes usually only last for seconds up to a few minutes and tend to resolve on their own. Occasionally, the episode will end if the person is touched or spoken to.

Episodes of sleep paralysis can be very anxiety producing. In addition to the sensation of not being able to breathe, hallucinations, whether hearing or seeing things that are not present, can accompany the event. Sleep paralysis can be brought on by lack of adequate sleep, keeping an irregular sleep schedule and being under excessive stress. While most of the time sleep paralysis is not associated with other medical conditions, it can be one of the signs of narcolepsy (individuals with this condition also experience uncontrollable sleepiness).

The escalation in your symptoms may well be related to some change in your life, such as a change in the amount or timing of your sleep, or the addition of new stressors. It might be a good idea to examine these factors in your life and see if any could be associated. If so, then making changes in your lifestyle or trying to reduce stress may help. Usually, other than reassurance and avoiding situations that may bring on the episodes, no specific treatment is needed in most cases.

Other medical conditions that can appear with similar symptoms to sleep paralysis include compressed nerves, cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle control in emotionally charged situations such as laughing), seizures, and panic attacks. Most of these conditions can be separated from sleep paralysis by specific factors from the medical history.

If you are concerned about your symptoms or would like to exclude the other possibilities mentioned above, I recommend you discuss your problems with your primary care doctor. They can then decide if referral to a Sleep Specialist is needed for further evaluation.

If you would like further information about sleep disorders or sleep itself, I recommend the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. In addition to information about sleep medicine, the website also contains a list of accredited Sleep Centers and may help you to locate one nearest you. Good Luck!

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Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University