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Sleep Disorders

Chest Feels Numb When I Start Falling Asleep

05/17/2010

Question:

When I`m in the stage about to fall asleep my chest start to feel numb. At the point my eyes are closed and I feel conscious. I`m able to hear and barely breath a little, and my whole body feels like it has shut down, not able to move. I feel like in my head I`m trying hard to move a body part but it just seem like it does not work. When I`m in this stage it my last about 2-5minutes.

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).

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