Feeling stuck? Common treatment for sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis is one of the most terrifying sleeping disorders a person can experience.
There are few things more horrifying than the idea of waking up, unable to move, speak or cope with your feelings of fear.
The good news? Sleep paralysis isn’t as dangerous as it seems. Within a couple of minutes, you should find that you’ve woken up completely and your motion goes back to normal. However, the anxiety that’s associated with sleep paralysis often leaves people searching for treatment options — particularly if they experience this issue regularly.
The unfortunate truth is that sleep paralysis is a condition that can affect people of all ages, from teenagers to fully-grown adults. However, there are some ways to overcome these episodes if you’re unlikely enough to encounter them.
Here’s your guide to how to get rid of sleep paralysis and regain control over your bedtime routine.
Understanding the treatment of sleep paralysis
Although sleep paralysis used to be associated with things like demons and ghosts among certain religious and cultural groups, the actual cause of this condition is far more mundane. Scientists believe that sleep paralysis happens when the brain and body aren’t synced adequately during the sleeping process.
For instance, during a normal night of sleep, the brain sends a message to your nervous system telling you that it’s time to sleep. This message causes the nervous system to pause the connection between your mind and body so that you don’t get up and start acting your dreams out during the night. When it’s time to wake up, your brain wakes your muscles up again, ending the paralysis, then you gradually open your eyes and rejoin the conscious world.
However, when sleep paralysis takes place, this process happens at the wrong speed. Your mind wakes up, and your eyes open before your limbs have had a chance to start moving again. Your body remains dormant, and you enter a state of panic as you realise you can’t move.
Although sleep paralysis is scary, a treatment isn’t usually required. This problem isn’t very common and usually occurs as a one-off in a person’s life. Once you’ve woken up and gotten back to normal, you shouldn’t experience sleep paralysis again any time soon. However, if you’re one of the rare (and unlucky) people who experiences sleep paralysis more regularly, then you might need to see a doctor about how to help sleep paralysis, and what’s causing your episodes.
How is sleep paralysis diagnosed?
As mentioned above, anyone could find themselves searching for a treatment for sleep paralysis.
Up to four in every ten people could suffer from this condition at some point during their lives. Most commonly, the issues begin during your teenage years, but you can generally have this experience at any age. Your chances of needing a sleep paralysis cure increase if you’re:
Always dealing with a changing sleep schedule.
Never getting the right amount of rest.
Suffering from other sleep problems like leg cramps or narcolepsy.
Experiencing mental conditions like bipolar disorder or severe stress.
Using certain medications like those for ADHD.
A heavy drinker or have other vices.
Though it’s difficult to diagnose sleep paralysis with any degree of certainty, your doctor may choose to do further investigation into your condition. For instance, they could ask you to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks, so that they can discover whether your sleeping habits are causing a disorder. They may also refer you to a sleeping specialist, who will discuss your medical history with you, including any known disorders in your family.
Frequently, a diagnosing sleep paralysis will also include an over-night evaluation conducted in a special laboratory. During this session, your doctor will ask you to sleep with monitoring devices on your body, which allows for a better insight into your brain waves and physiological conditions during the night. Over-night sleep studies will help doctors to determine if other conditions, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, are causing your disorder.
How do you fight sleep paralysis?
Usually, when you speak to your GP about treatment for sleep paralysis, the first thing that they’ll suggest is implementing strategies to improve your sleep habits. The better your sleep hygiene, the less likely it is that you’ll become a victim of sleep paralysis in the first place.
After an initial check-up to make sure that there aren’t any physiological causes for your sleep issues, your doctor will usually recommend using a regimented sleep schedule that fits with your circadian rhythm to reduce your risk of sleep disruptions. This will help to encourage your mind and body to move through the various phases of sleep at the right pace.
Your doctor may also suggest:
Avoiding stimulation before bed: Reduce your exposure to intense stimulation in the form of exciting video games, television shows, or anything else that’s going to keep your mind whirring before it’s time to go to bed.
Blocking out light: Do everything you can to create a room that’s conducive to a good night’s sleep. This means blocking out bright lights from electronics, items in your room, and even the outdoors. Blackout curtains or blinds can be a lifesaver if you suffer from sleep disorders.
Eliminate noise: Just as light can increase your risk of sleeping problems, sounds can be disruptive too. Make sure that you’ve got double-glazing on your windows, and that you wear earplugs if you need to block other distractions.
New mattresses, pillows, or duvets: If you’re uncomfortable in your bed, then you’re less likely to have a restful night’s sleep. One of the easiest options for the treatment of sleep paralysis is to upgrade your bedding.
What medication helps with sleep paralysis?
Most people won’t require any kind of treatment for sleep paralysis. The condition is rare and will often solve itself when you improve your sleeping habits and get into a regular routine. However, your doctor will need to double-check that you don’t need any treatment for underlying conditions like narcolepsy before they rule out medication for sleep paralysis entirely.
As these episodes are more common in people who are sleep deprived, your doctor may prescribe a few sleeping pills to help you get back into a routine if you’re having a lot of difficulties sleeping after a paralysis session. Sometimes, the fear of experiencing paralysis again can cause a condition called sleep anxiety, where you’re frightened to go to sleep each night.
During a discussion with your doctor, you may also be asked if you’re taking any existing medications that could be causing or worsening your sleep paralysis. Some drugs can increase your risk of having sleep disorders, including treatments for ADHD. If you’re concerned that a particular drug or a common vice like alcohol may be contributing to your problem, your doctor will recommend stopping it.
In cases where your condition is particularly severe, your doctor may recommend using certain antidepressant medications like SSRIs or tricyclic drugs. These are the most common options for sleep paralysis treatment medication, but because they don’t get to the root of the problem, they’re rarely recommend for long-term use. If your doctor does give you medicines for sleep paralysis, it will usually be at a low dose. Typical options include:
How to stop sleep paralysis from happening
Scientists still don’t fully understand why certain sleeping disorders happen. Sleep paralysis is something of a mystery to the medical community, which means that it’s challenging to create some magic pill that will eliminate this problem from your life altogether.
The good news is that your sleep paralysis treatment is unlikely to include a bunch of dangerous chemicals or medications. Instead, the chances are that your doctor will ask you to make some basic lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of sleep paralysis instead. Simple self-care options can go a long way towards overcoming your issue. For instance, you can:
Avoid exposure to alcohol and caffeine: Both alcohol and caffeine have a serious impact on your brain’s ability to shut down at night. The more you expose yourself to these substances, the greater your risk of sleep disorders becomes.
Stop sleeping on your back: This isn’t always easy, but there are some preliminary studies that indicate sleeping on your back may slightly increase your chances of sleep paralysis and other common sleeping disorders. Sleeping on your back can also increase your risk of issues like sleep apnea. Put a rolled-up pillow behind you to stop yourself from moving in the night.
Keep bedtimes consistent: Make sure that you go to bed at the same time every night (Even on the weekend). This will help to create a rhythm with your built-in body clock that encourages you to sleep soundly at the same time each day.
Learning how to prevent sleep paralysis is one thing; figuring out how to wake up from sleep paralysis is another issue entirely. Most people find that it takes a lot of time and practice to get control of their mind during a sleep paralysis episode. If, like most people, this issue happens to you suddenly and doesn’t recur, then you may not have time to figure out a routine for overcoming paralysis before you’ve woken up fully. However, if you do experience regular bouts of sleep paralysis, try the following steps:
Accept your circumstances: Try to stay calm and remind yourself that you’re experiencing a temporary issue. Sleep paralysis won’t last forever, and you’ll be able to move again soon.
Try to move gradually: Start by looking around the room, blinking, and moving your eyes. As you start to wake up more, focus on wiggling your toes and fingers to bring your body back to life.
Focus on positive thoughts and ideas: Some people experience scary hallucinations when they’re having a sleep paralysis episode. To make this easier to manage, try visualising something positive instead.
Focus on your breathing: Try to continue breathing deeply and normally during a paralysis episode. This will reduce your risk of entering “fight or flight” mode, where you get a scary shot of adrenaline straight to your chest.
Try coughing or using your voice: If you feel like you can’t move at all, coughing, making some kind of noise, or trying to speak could help to centre your mind and body so that you can wake up faster.
You may find your own way to cope with sleep paralysis, like scrunching up your face or coughing to signal that you need help from your partner. If you do come across your own solution, write it down, so you remember it for the future.
Finding your sleep paralysis cure
As terrifying as sleep paralysis might be, it’s neither dangerous nor life-threatening. It’s important to remember that you’re completely safe if you ever wake up feeling unable to move. Usually, cases of sleep paralysis won’t require any treatment. You may experience an episode once and then never encounter the problem again. However, if you end up with repetitive cases of sleep paralysis, speak to your doctor.
While sleep paralysis by itself isn’t dangerous, it could be a sign that you’re suffering from an underlying condition like narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. In this case, you will need some treatment to reduce the risks associated with those conditions.