The different types of sleep paralysis
There are two main types of sleep paralysis – isolated sleep paralysis and recurrent sleep paralysis. 🛌🏼
Isolated sleep paralysis
Isolated sleep paralysis occurs occasionally, and the episodes are not connected to an underlying diagnosis of narcolepsy or other sleep disorders.
This form of sleep paralysis typically only happens once or twice in your lifetime.
Recurrent sleep paralysis
Recurrent sleep paralysis, on the other hand, is defined as two or more episodes of sleep paralysis within a one-year period.
It usually happens during the transition from wakefulness to sleep (hypnopompic sleep paralysis).
Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis is characterised by two or more episodes in a one-year period, without any intervening episodes lasting longer than five minutes.
Other physical sensations, such as tingling or pressure on the chest area, may also accompany it.
If you're experiencing sleep paralysis regularly, try keeping a sleep diary to monitor it. 📕
Isolated sleep paralysis may be triggered by lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep and irregular sleeping patterns, while recurrent sleep paralysis is often linked to mental health conditions like depression.
It is important to note that both types of sleep paralysis can cause fear or panic, but they do not pose any long-term health risks.
Hypnagogic vs hypnopompic sleep paralysis
Hypnagogic sleep paralysis occurs when you are about to fall asleep and feels like you cannot move or speak.
This is because your brain and body are transitioning from wakefulness to sleep, and the signals don't match up correctly.
During hypnopompic sleep paralysis, the same thing happens - only you are waking up instead of falling asleep.
You may still feel unable to move or speak even though your mind is alert.
Causes of sleep paralysis
Before we dive into the specifics, here’s a quick overview of the common risk factors for sleep paralysis:
- Family history of paralysis
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- General anxiety disorder
- Sleep apnoea
- Disrupted sleep schedule due to jet lag or shift work
Let’s explore some of these in more detail.
Other sleep disorders
There is a strong correlation between isolated sleep paralysis and other sleep disorders.
There is also research into the link between atonia, cataplexy and sleep paralysis in the neuroscience field.
If you suffer from another sleep disorder, you likely have a higher chance of experiencing sleep paralysis as well. 📈
Insomnia symptoms, like severe daytime sleepiness and sleep deprivation, are also associated with sleep paralysis. 😴
When you don’t get enough sleep or just a few hours of sleep, your body is tired, and there is a higher risk of sleep paralysis.
Mental health conditions
Some mental health conditions, like anxiety disorders and panic disorder, can make it difficult to fall asleep and relax into a healthy bedtime routine.
There is a significant link between psychiatry, sleep problems, and sleep paralysis.
Stress and anxiety
But stress and anxiety can make episodes of sleep paralysis more likely.
Try practising meditation to soothe your worries and fall into a peaceful sleep. 🧘🏾♂️
Sleep paralysis is often linked to symptoms of narcolepsy, a medical condition that affects the brain's ability to control the sleep cycle.
People with narcolepsy may experience episodes of both hypnagogic and hypnopompic sleep paralysis more frequently than those who do not have the disorder.
Narcolepsy can also cause excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden muscle weakness, hallucinations, and other symptoms, such as feeling unusually energetic after waking up from a short nap.
Other potential causes include stress, drug use, and changes in sleeping habits or environment.
Some studies have even found a higher risk among people with a family history of sleep paralysis.
If you are experiencing sleep paralysis, chat with your family and find out if anyone else has similar problems. 👨👩👧👧
Sleep paralysis and the NHS
Your GP may encourage you to make some small lifestyle changes - such as reducing stress levels, improving sleep hygiene practices, or getting regular exercise.
While these changes may seem too simple for such a terrifying experience - they can be a very effective form of treatment.
Other treatments are available on the NHS, too - such as hypnotherapy - but these must be prescribed by a healthcare professional first before being accessed through the service.
Start making a note of your sleep paralysis episodes and use a sleep tracker to monitor your sleep quality.
This information can be helpful if you reach out to a medical professional about your sleep paralysis.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sleep disorders and the NHS - there is limited help available. Private services, such as a trained sleep therapist, may be a better way to go.