What is sleep paralysis? It's causes and prevention

Let me paint a picture for you: you’re sleeping peacefully all cozy in your bed surrounded by too many pillows when all the sudden you wake up but have no control over your body. It feels like a sumo wrestler is sitting on your chest and you’re not sure why you can’t move. Maybe you even start to panic and get disoriented - and understandably so. In the past people have used several ways to try and explain this strange phenomenon, from demons and aliens to spirits from the great beyond. Thankfully however this is now known as sleep paralysis, and it’s more common than you might think!


Why does sleep paralysis happen?

Before we can get into the fix let’s take some time to understand what is actually happening when you experience this pretty scary (but natural) occurrence. Most of us are familiar with sleep cycles and the REM phase of sleep, which is the phase where your body and conscious mind gets a different and deeper kind of sleep. While this is happening though your subconscious mind lights up with activity and starts processing all of the information you came across during that day in a process we call dreaming. Dreams are like the brain’s natural VR simulator where it plays out different situations for itself so it can learn how to adapt to different environments and situations, no matter how outlandish those situations can seem when we wake up. While we’re dreaming our body puts us under a type of paralysis so that we don’t actually injure ourselves

The problem comes in when the conscious part of our brain suddenly wakes up while your body is still paralyzed. Because you’re still technically dreaming you may experience hallucinations or strange sensations, all while being unable to move. This is what it’s like to experience sleep paralysis and it can be very scary, even if you are completely safe. Most people will experience this 1-2 times in their lives however some people can experience sleep paralysis multiple times a month!

What can I do to fix it?

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to make yourself come out of sleep paralysis while it’s happening. The best thing you can do is to try and calm yourself down and focus on your breathing, almost like a form of meditation. Within a span of a few seconds to a couple of minutes your brain will realize that it’s conscious and will stop the paralysis so you can move normally.

However, there are steps you can take while you’re awake to prevent sleep paralysis from happening and to improve the overall quality of your sleep.


1. Exercise

An easy and cheap (free) way to improve the quality of your sleep is to make sure your body and mind are tired and ready for sleep. It will leave you less restless which will decrease your chances of waking up in the middle of the night.


2. Dietary changes

I know it’s not fun to change your diet but it can have a huge impact on your health and sleep quality. Things like caffeine, alcohol, or large meals before bed can really wreak havoc on your sleep cycles and could cause sleep paralysis.


3. Decrease your screen time

Easier said than done I know, but cutting down on electronics before bed can drastically improve the quality of our sleep. The light they emit stimulates our brain and can make it really hard to settle down to sleep right afterward.


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