Coming To Grips With Sleep Paralysis
Most people experience Sleep Paralysis at least once throughout their lifetime, and some people (including myself) experience it regularly or on a nightly basis. Firstly I’ll describe what Sleep Paralysis generally is, and then I’ll discuss some of the ways of treating it that have helped me enormously.
An experience of Sleep Paralysis occurs when the mind becomes conscious, yet the person’s physical body remains asleep (and therefore paralysed) for up to several minutes. A choking sensation also comes along with Sleep Paralysis as our breathing pattern is different while we’re asleep. Yet when our conscious mind is awake we will always attempt to breathe at a faster and somewhat shallower pace.
Naturally our voluntary muscles become paralysed throughout our sleep cycles. There are a few important reasons for this. Yet in the case of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep it’s particularly so that we don’t act out during our dreams. REM Sleep is one of our lighter stages of sleep and is the phase in which our dreams almost always occur.
Normally our mind and body shifts through the various stages of sleep and wakefulness quite smoothly. A human’s undisturbed sleep cycle (at night time as humans are by nature diurnal beings) typically begins and ends with a period of REM Sleep. Yet there are instances when a person’s body has difficulty with immediately passing from REM Sleep to wakefulness and/or vice versa. This is called Sleep Paralysis Disorder.
I myself have had Sleep Paralysis Disorder from childhood (the age of eight to be precise) to the present day, and naturally experience it when I wake up from a full cycle of sleep; and at times when I fall asleep again during the daytime or very early in the morning.
Sleep Paralysis is rarely harmful, but it is still extremely uncomfortable and frightening (even though it only lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes). Whenever I experience it my mind is fully awake yet I cannot move a single muscle, open my eyes or call out for someone to wake me up. Nor can I breathe in a conscious way, and that makes me feel like I’m suffocating.
Sometimes I fall back into a dreaming state which I like. Yet at other times I finally wake up after forcing my eyes open with all my might (occasionally my eyes are still rolling back and forth for a short while). There have also been times when only the left or right side of my body have remained paralysed.
When this all began at eight years old it terrified me. I’d hate waking up in the middle of the night because I could either experience sleep paralysis while waking, or experience it while I fell into REM Sleep again, without having deeper sleep afterward to erase the memory of it. As a teenager my Sleep Paralysis Disorder worsened, meaning that it became more frequent. When I was going through depression it was happening on a nightly basis. During the depression my sleep cycle was disturbed. Thus I was having broken patterns of sleep and therefore the likelihood of experiencing Sleep Paralysis was much higher.
This was when mum and I expressed this to a doctor and at the age of sixteen I was diagnosed with Sleep Paralysis Disorder. For that I was prescribed with a medication called Anafranil which is an antidepressant in addition. Due to the severity of my case I was also prescribed with Lexapro as an added preventative.
Since then the only times when Sleep Paralysis has reared its ugly head is when I haven’t been able to take my Anafranil at the right time (usually after having travelled from Australia to the United States). There was also a time recently when my doctor tried taking me off Lexapro, which made me experience Sleep Paralysis again. So I was put back on Lexapro and will continue taking both that and Anafranil for the rest of my life. Now I can almost say that I’ve permanently said goodbye to Sleep Paralysis, hoping that Anafranil and Lexapro never get discontinued of course.