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How to Stop Sleep Paralysis?

Updated on August 5, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

I'm Sam. I enjoy writing about sleep and mental health-related topics as well as ways to prevent stress and to relax.

With all of the articles written on sleep paralysis, most who have experienced sleep paralysis just want to know one thing…can I stop it? If you like countless others have had the misfortune of sleep paralysis then you know how terrifying it can be. Though there is no known cure at this time there are specific things that science suggests could be the cause. It is believed that we have the ability to manage the factors that make it more likely that an individual will experience sleep paralysis.

If we know that that research has not concluded the cause but has uncovered some contributing factors then we can only take the steps necessary to understanding sleep paralysis (what occurs scientifically), and what factors are present to encourage it (why it happens), will allow you to make the changes that are necessary to lessen or eliminate the occurrences.

Understanding the Stages of the Sleep Cycle

Understanding the stages of sleep is the first step in taking control of sleep paralysis. Each human being has a specific sleep cycle that includes four major stages. They include:

Stage One

Stage one consists of a 5 to a 10-minute cycle where the sleeper is resting in a light slumber.

Stage Two

Stage two is where the sleeper has been in a light slumber long enough for the heart rate to slow and the body temperature to drop. The body goes through this phase as preparation for the deep sleep state.

Stage Three

In stage three the body falls into a deep sleep state. It is during this stage that the sleeper should be fast asleep and thereby hard to waken.

Stage Four

In stage four the sleeper will enter into NREM sleep which triggers intense dreams and it is during this time that the activity in the brain picks up and becomes more active. It is also at this time where the brain triggers the body to become relaxed, inactive and ultimately paralyzed. This stage is important to the sleeper in a multitude of ways, but for the sake of understanding the sleep cycles, it is most important to note that this is where the sleeper is most likely to experience sleep paralysis.

Possible Causes Sleep Paralysis

Though a cure is currently unknown through intense research we have come to learn more about the potential causes or contributing causes of sleep paralysis. In numerous studies there have been commonalities reported by the test subjects that include such things as:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Changes or disruption of sleep patterns
  • Caffeine
  • Travel
  • Changes in work shifts
  • Late night studying
  • Sleeping on the back
  • Mental health conditions
  • Medications
  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Extreme stress
  • Hereditary links

Understanding the things that we may be doing that are contributing to our sleep paralysis is important. Making the changes necessary to regulate sleep patterns has made significant changes in the individual's overall ability to sleep restfully without having and sleep paralysis experience.

An additional thread among those who experience sleep paralysis is sleep disorders. Among those who were experiencing it, it was discovered that many of the participants in the sleep paralysis sleep studies also had other sleep disorders such as:

  • Narcolepsy
  • Cataplexy
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep Apnea

However not all of those studied who experienced sleep paralysis had an additional sleep disorder which led researchers to conclude that there were other factors.

How to Cure or Prevent Sleep Paralysis

Though little has been uncovered on the cure of sleep paralysis that doesn’t mean there aren’t preventative steps one can take to lessen the occurrences or eliminate them entirely. There are two ways you can stop sleep paralysis. The first is during sleep paralysis and the second is before it occurs.

Stop Sleep Paralysis

Relax and Release The fear

Scientists have come to believe that a lot of what the sleeper in experiencing is based on fear. Fear triggers the emotional centers of the brain, intensifying the experience. During sleep paralysis focus your attention on someone you care about, a positive memory or for those who are spiritual think of love and consider prayer.

Relax Your Breathing

Though you may be experiencing an intense feeling of being held down on with a weight on your chest or body, it is important to remember that this is most likely based on lying on one's back, which when combined with the paralytic state can cause one to feel that the breathing is labored or difficult. In reality your body is receiving the oxygen it needs and the more relaxed you can become the better.

Don’t Struggle

If you are fortunate to become aware that you are in a sleep paralysis state then you will want to remind yourself of what is occurring. Don’t struggle but rather focus your attention on moving only one part of your body, such as a single finger. Ignore the rest of what is going on around you and place all of your attention on this single act of moving this single finger. Any movement you are able to manage will signal to the brain to release you from the SP. Something that is also very effective is squinting the eyes.

Share Your Concern

Make sure your husband, wife or significant other is aware of your condition. They can become your sleep partner and help you when you are experiencing sleep paralysis. Educate them on what to look for and how to help. The most important thing to note is being gentle and not startling the sleeper. A sleep partner may use a gentle nudge or speak to the sleeper in a non-threatening or intense voice.

It is important to note that though you may feel that you have little control during sleep paralysis, the reality is that you have it within your control on how you experience sleep paralysis. It can control you and create fear and anxiety, furthering your discomfort, or you can see it as it really is, a simple miscommunication of the brain and relax and take steps to release yourself from it. The choice is yours in most cases.

Managing Sleep Paralysis

The best advice, however, is to take control of your sleep patterns to the best of your ability by being proactive about it. By implementing a few simple rules into their lives many have reported that they have been able to manage their sleep paralysis, which has lessened and in some cases eliminated the experiences entirely. Some popular management techniques include:

  • Avoid sleeping on the back
  • Reduce stress factors
  • Regulate sleep patterns
  • Eliminate or reduce caffeine, alcohol, and unnecessary drugs
  • Prepare in advance for disruptions of your normal sleep patterns
  • Rest properly during travel, adhering as closely to regular sleep patterns as is possible
  • See your Dr. if new medications are inducing sleep paralysis

The most important advice that I can offer is to get the rest that is needed and take the time to learn as much as you can about the causes and effects of sleep paralysis.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 Sam Shepards


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