Sleep Paralysis: Frozen to the Spot

Emma Brudanell

You wake in the dead of night and look around the familiar setting of your bedroom. Everything initially looks normal, but something feels slightly different. You sense that you are not alone.  Then out of the corner of your eye, you see an eerie shadow. You try to move, try to sit up and get a better view, but you can’t – you’re completely paralysed.

While this may sound like something out of a horror story, what I have just described is a personal description of the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, experienced in some form or another by up to 8% of the population.

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a condition defined by the temporary inability to move or talk whilst falling asleep or waking up. It can often be accompanied by terrifying and bizarre visual or auditory hallucinations and usually passes in a few seconds or minutes.

Sufferers describe some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty taking deep breaths
  • Inability to move or speak
  • Sensed presence
  • Hallucinations
  • Intense fear

Sleep paralysis has been long been associated with evil spirits, demons and supernatural entities. Symptoms have been described by many different cultures and throughout history and it may be the superstitions entwined in cultures which act as a catalyst for the hallucinations experienced.  For example, many African cultures attribute voodoo magic as it’s cause, with the attacks being due to zombies coming to visit in the night. Whilst in the Caribbean sleep paralysis, also known as ‘kokma’, is believed to be caused by the souls of dead unbaptized babies who come and strangle victims in their sleep.

sleep pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

Causes of sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a recognised condition caused by the body not moving through the stages of sleep properly. There are two types of sleep paralysis; one occurs when your falling asleep, called predormital sleep paralysis and the other when you’re waking up, called postdormital sleep paralysis.

Predormital sleep paralysis occurs when your body relaxes as you start to enter into a sleep cycle but your mind still remains conscious and is aware that you can’t move or speak. It is often associated with the sleep condition narcolepsy, which results from the brain’s inability to regulate normal sleep wake cycles.

Postdormital sleep paralysis is much more common and occurs when your body wakes from a state of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During REM sleep, the most vivid dreams occur and your body is paralysed by your brain to prevent you from acting these dreams out. Sleep paralysis can occur when your brain awakes from and incomplete cycle of REM sleep, whilst your body is still paralysed.

Risk factors

Whilst there is no known definitive cause of sleep paralysis, it has been linked to: stress, certain medications, depression, substance abuse and recently a gene which helps regulates our bodies’ sense of time. It has been associated with other sleep conditions and has also found to be more common in psychiatric patients, being experienced by up to 32% of them (and, interestingly, 28% of students).

Prevention and treatment

Luckily, although terrifying sleep paralysis isn’t actually dangerous and most of the time there is no need for any treatment, although in particular cases low doses of anti-depressants may be prescribed. Some tips for avoiding it include; sleeping on your side, establishing a regular sleep cycle, regular exercise and avoiding eating, drinking or smoking just before bed.
Sleep tight.

The Science Behind the Perfect Nap

Katie Jones

Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill are amongst some of the most influential people in human history. Despite being run off their feet painting beautiful masterpieces, developing the general theory of relativity, and leading Britain through World War Two; they all still found time for a well-earned nap. But, what is the key to a successful nap? Why is it that sometimes they make us feel groggy and other times they put a spring in our step?

Recent evidence suggests that there are three main types of sleeping. Planned napping, this is where a nap is used to prevent tiredness that might occur later in the day. For example, if you know you won’t get to bed till later than usual, you may want to have a nap earlier in the day to keep yourself going. In contrast, when you suddenly become hit by a wave of tiredness, an emergency nap may sort you right out. This type of nap can combat drowsiness and means you can carry on the activity you were originally engaged in with a new lease of life. And finally, there’s habitual napping, often seen in young children who may fall asleep at the same time every day.

sleep flickr

Image Credit: Flickr

Napping for different lengths of time have varying effects on our brain, and can alter the effectiveness of the nap on relieving tiredness. Recent evidence suggests that naps of different duration provide us with different benefits.

The common Power Nap (15-20 minutes) is suggested to provide a quick jolt of alertness and decrease fatigue – and is often claimed to be the most beneficial length of nap. A nap of between 40-60 minutes is thought to help in memory by forcing memories into the long term memory store of the brain whilst we sleep. However, a sleep for this length of time can lead to grogginess for around half an hour after the nap. This grogginess is technically referred to as sleep inertia, and can be dangerous if alertness is required immediately after waking from the nap. A longer nap of around 90 minutes is referred to as an REM (rapid eye movement) nap. A nap this long avoids the sleep inertia that is experienced with other, shorter types of nap, and is also claimed to improve creativity and memory.

Achieving the best nap possible, requires a room that is as dark and quiet as possible; lying in a comfortable position, and not putting undue strain on your back or neck. The time of the nap is also important, too late and it may disrupt your nightly sleeping pattern. Experts suggest that an ideal napping time is around 4pm.

Often, napping is associated with laziness and a weak work ethic, however a lot of companies now see the benefits of napping to their employees and are beginning to offer “energy pods” or “quiet rooms” that can be used as a napping spot.

Now armed with your new found napping knowledge, plan yourself the ultimate nap and wake up rejuvenated and ready to face the day (or whatever’s left of it).