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What is Sleep Paralysis by Jessica Farwell

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Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia disorder, wherein a person is transitioning between sleep and a wakeful state, but cannot move their body and feels a pressure or weight on their chest. This paralysis of the body is accompanied by an intense feeling of dread, which is why various supernatural explanations have been given to this disorder over the years. Eye movement is still possible, but movement of the body and speech are not. Often, people are said to have hallucinations of terrifying entities when this occurs, but even without any disturbing visuals, those who have suffered from it all seem to feel an ominous presence in the room with them. The supernatural beings supposedly sitting on the victim’s chest vary by country, but a common one is a witch or old hag, which is where it gets its colloquial name of “Old Hag Syndrome”.

It is hard to say exactly how many people suffer from sleep paralysis, but it is surprisingly common for people to have a single experience with it over the course of their lifetimes. Only a small percentage of the population experiences this condition on a recurring basis. It often first appears during teenage years, but those of any age can experience it and it does not seem to be more or less prevalent in either gender. If a person has family members who experience it, it is not unreasonable to expect that he or she will also have it, since it can run in the family. Other potential contributing factors are drug or alcohol abuse, or the use of some medications, other sleep disorders or mental conditions such as narcolepsy, stress, or bipolar disorder. Not getting enough sleep, or having a sleep schedule that is not consistent can also lead to sleep paralysis, and almost all those who have reported experiencing it were sleeping on their backs, so that is also considered a possible contributing factor.

The condition is considered harmless from a medical standpoint, but it is still deeply upsetting to people affected by it. Sleep paralysis generally indicates an irregularity in the sleep cycle, but is not linked to psychiatric disorders. Instead of slowly experiencing total relaxation, a person’s mind remains aware while the body falls asleep, so it becomes noticeable that movement and speech have become impossible when the REM stage of sleep occurs. Movement is usually restricted during the REM phase, so that people don’t act out their dreams.

Generally, since it only happens once for most people and isn’t considered dangerous, no real treatment for it is required. It is suggested that getting a good night’s sleep will help, as well as addressing any existing sleep disorders or mental disorders. Sleep paralysis is less likely to occur in people who are not stressed out before going to bed. Those who experience it on several occasions may be advised to participate in a sleep study so that other potential sleep disorders can be identified or ruled out, and for those who are deeply disturbed by these recurring experiences, SSRIs (Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors), which are a type of antidepressant, may be prescribed.


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