Sleep paralysis is a common sleep disorder, which can be frightening. During an episode of sleep paralysis, you’re unable to move your body or speak, but you’re still breathing normally and fully aware of what’s going on around you. Some people even experience hallucinations during sleep paralysis. Most episodes last only a minute or two, and most of the time, you can end one if you make a strong effort to move or speak, or if someone talks to you or touches you.
To prevent sleep paralysis and get better sleep, you must first understand its causes.
Sleep Paralysis Causes
“When you sleep, your brain sends a message to your muscles to be calm and still,” said Najmuddin S. Patwa, MD, a physician at Winchester Pulmonary & Sleep Center. “But with sleep paralysis, it seems that relaxation happens while you’re still awake for a short period of time.”
One of the main causes of sleep paralysis is poor sleep habits, specifically a lack of sleep. Most people first experience episodes in their teens, when their sleep patterns are changing and they’re starting to stay up later. Other sleep paralysis causes include:
Anxiety disorder or depression
Not having a consistent sleep schedule
Episodes tend to happen more frequently if you sleep on your back. Sleep paralysis also tends to be a symptom of narcolepsy, but experiencing sleep paralysis does not necessarily mean that you are narcoleptic.
Ways to Prevent Sleep Paralysis
Getting adequate sleep is the first step toward prevention. Although an episode of sleep paralysis can be frightening, it’s not harmful to your health. However, not getting enough sleep can cause numerous negative health effects.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that people get at least seven hours of sleep per night. But the number of people getting less than six hours of sleep per night has increased dramatically over the past few decades, Dr. Patwa said. He also added that poor sleep increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, mental health problems and a host of other medical issues.
You can improve your sleep habits by putting away electronic devices a few hours before you go to bed, by going to bed at the same time every night and by creating a relaxing environment in your bedroom.
When to See Your Doctor
For most people, sleep paralysis happens occasionally, but it isn’t an ongoing problem and isn’t a serious medical risk. With adequate sleep and a regular bedtime routine, you’ll likely stop having any episodes. But if you frequently experience sleep paralysis, you may want to talk to your primary care provider about it.
Recurring episodes could signal another problem that needs treatment. Sleep paralysis is most often caused by another underlying issue, such as anxiety or depression, and managing that condition could cure your sleep paralysis.
Most people do not need to undergo sleep studies for diagnosis or treatment, either. Your doctor will ask about your sleep habits and medical history to find the underlying cause of the sleep paralysis. You may want to see a sleep medicine specialist if you have other medical problems that are preventing you from consistently getting a full night’s sleep.