Scientists classify the phenomenon of sleep paralysis as one of several arousal malfunctions called parasomnias. These sleep disorders, which include sleepwalking, sleep talking, night terrors, and other abnormalities, generally are more common in childhood and are usually outgrown by the time individuals reach adulthood. Yet, these disorders may also be induced when an adult is sleep deprived.
Experiencing paralysis during sleep is frequently associated with the condition of narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder associated with excessive daytime sleepiness.
Someone suffering from this paralysis would not be able to move or talk when falling asleep or waking up. The inability to move may last for several minutes.
A person may panic when this occurs because of the inability to move. Occasionally this condition occurs along with hypnagogic hallucinations (hallucinations which occur during the bridge between sleep and wakefulness).
The vivid hallucinations may add to the person's fright.The presence of the paralysis or the hallucinations in and of themselves is not necessarily an indication of narcolepsy as both conditions are found in the general population.
Most people experience a temporary paralysis during REM stages sleep, when dreams occur. During REM, muscles can be temporarily paralyzed so that people do not act out their dreams. The REM stages of sleep make up about a quarter of an individuals total time sleeping. The initials REM stage begins by the second hour of sleep and an individual floats in and out of REM four or five times during the course of a night. For learn more about REM, click here: REM Sleep.
While that is one explanation, some sleep experts think that when people experience parasomnias, the neurological impulses between the various sleep stages do not function properly. This allows aspects of various stages to bleed over into others, such as feeling paralyzed while awake.
Treatment of narcolepsy, which usually begins when a person is a teenager or a young adult, may help.
Some scientists believe a brain chemical called Hypocretin (hi-po-KREET-in) may be responsible for narcolepsy. People who have narcolepsy generally have low levels of this chemical, though experts do not know why. Narcolepsy has no cure, but lifestyle changes and medication may help.
Sleep paralysis has also been found in animals and is a symptom of narcolepsy in dogs. Pets suffering from disorder may drown if left alone near water.
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Published by Jules Sowder