Monday, 17 August 2009

Sleep Paralysis

In the August edition of The Psychologist, the official monthly publication of The British Psychological Society, there is an article written by Julia Santomauro and Christopher C. French, two researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, examining the phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

“Sleep paralysis is a period of transient, consciously experienced paralysis either when going to sleep or waking up. During an episode the individual is fully conscious, able to open their eyes but aware that it is not possible to move limbs, head or trunk. There may be also be the perception of respiratory difficulties and, understandably, acute anxiety (Dahlitz & Parkes, 1993).”

“In addition, the individual might experience hallucinations. In a sample of 254 college students who had experienced sleep paralysis at least once (Cheyne et al., 1999), 75 per cent had concurrently experienced body paralysis and hallucinations.”

“Sleep paralysis usually occurs when the individual is lying on a bed – it is unlikely to occur if in an uncomfortable sleeping position such as sitting upright (Hishikawa, 1976). It is more likely to occur when the individual is lying supine facing upwards than in any other sleeping position (Cheyne, 2002). An episode can last between a few seconds and 10 minutes and can end either spontaneously or because of an intense effort to break the paralysis by the person experiencing it, or by the touch or voice of another person (Goode, 1962).”
I have had an interest in sleep paralysis for many years now and like to keep up to date with research in this area. I first experienced sleep paralysis when I was working as an auxiliary nurse about 6 years ago. I did a lot of shift work including some night shifts. According to the American Sleep Disorders Association, shift work, jetlag, irregular sleep habits, overtiredness and sleep deprivation are all considered to be predisposing factors to sleep paralysis. It was so scary being conscious but not being able to move and my dream still carrying on around me. I couldn’t even speak to cry out for help – it’s the most bizarre thing I have ever experienced. I had no idea what it was and at the time had never heard of sleep paralysis. It’s actually more common than you think and since experiencing it and learning about it more I’ve met many people who have also experienced it at some point or another in their life.

“Although estimates vary, it appears that up to 50 per cent of the population will experience sleep paralysis in one form or another at least once in their lifetime, and some people experience it far more often than that.”

Read the full article on sleep paralysis - Terror in the night

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  1. If insomnia is wreaking havoc in your life and in spite of your consistent efforts you are unable to sleep at night, you should soon approach a doctor. After a thorough examination, your physician may prescribe sleep inducing medicines such as ambien or sonata. However these medicines should never be taken without a proper prescription from a doctor as they tend to yield side-effects which at times can be serious.

  2. Thanks for your comment Vijold. If I was suffering with insomnia my first port of call would be my aromatherapy box - use some natural remedies first to see if they helped - like lavender or valerian essential oil. I'd definitly exhaust all the natural remedies first before going to the doctor but thats just me. Insomnia can be caused by many different things so it is wise to get it checked out by a GP if it persists.