Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious, but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep.
Of all the weird sensations that one can experience, perhaps there is nothing stranger than not being able to move; more specifically, not being able to move while being consciously aware of one’s surroundings.
Sleep paralysis is a strange and potentially frightening phenomenon. Essentially, the person experiencing sleep paralysis can’t move any part of their body, but yet remains conscious. Those that experience sleep paralyses are often terrified – an understandable reaction from not having voluntary control over one’s movements.
Fortunately, this is a relatively common occurrence and does not cause any physical harm to the body. Sleep paralysis happens during one of two stages -“hypnagogic” and “hypnopompic.” Hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs before falling asleep, while hypnopompic sleep paralysis occurs as one wakes from REM sleep.
As we fall asleep, our body becomes deeply relaxed while our minds concurrently become less aware. However, when hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs, the mind remains aware while the body achieves an involuntary state of relaxation. The person than realizes that they’re unable to move despite their efforts, often leading to feelings of panic.
During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, our muscles are paralyzed so that we don’t act out our dreams. When one experiences hypnopompic sleep paralysis, a certain part of the brain wakes sooner. This wakeful state does not affect the part of the brain responsible for REM paralysis, however. The result is a certain degree of wakefulness and no voluntary control over muscles.
WHO DOES THIS HAPPEN TO?
Some people are fortunate enough to experience sleep paralysis just once or twice in their life, if ever. Unfortunately, some people experience this phenomenon often – even multiple times a week. A study undertaken at Penn State University discovered that approximately 8 percent of the population has frequent issues with sleep paralysis. Individuals with mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are more prone to frequent episodes of sleep paralysis.
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