By David Joel Miller.
More on Sleep paralysis.
Remember this is written from a therapist’s point of view. If there is any chance that you or someone you know has a medical problem, have it checked out by a doctor first. But if the doctor finds nothing medically wrong with you that does not mean you are going crazy. It might mean that you can benefit from some counseling to help you better cope with stress.
Many people who experience sleep paralysis, hypnogogic hallucinations or “exploding head syndrome,” think they are going crazy or fatally ill. Knowing that these are explainable phenomena and have simple treatment can reduce the concerns. Sleep Paralysis and many related sleep problems are often triggered by stress. More stress, good or bad stress, and the chances of an attack increases.
People who become fearful of another occurrence of Sleep Paralysis can “prime the pump” and increase the risks of a second bout in the same way people who experience panic attacks begin to worry about having another episode.
If clients describe these events as dreams the doctor is likely to reassure them that it is normal. Patients who explain these events as demons, spirits or believe they actually saw a supernatural being are likely to be prescribed a psychiatric medication. Antipsychotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications (Benzodiazepines) are all believed to increase the incidence of Sleep Paralysis and Hypnogogic Hallucinations (Gangdev, 2004.)
Other things that have been reported to increase the risks of having an episode of Sleep Paralysis include being physically ill, such as having the flu, watching or experiencing emotionally upsetting events, such as having an argument.
If the paralysis or hallucinations only occur when going to sleep and waking up they are most likely sleep-related and not the result of a mental illness. Gangdev, in his article, asked the question: “It is possible that a small proportion of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia who experience hallucinations may actually be experiencing escaped REM-related dream activity during the wakeful state?”
There is a significant overlap between sleep paralysis and Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy includes not only sleep paralysis but hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, daytime sleepiness and Cataplexy (sudden unexplained loss of muscle tone.)
Sleep Paralysis without any cataplexy or daytime sleepiness is not considered to be associated with Narcolepsy and is referred to as Isolated Sleep Paralysis (ISP.) Penn reported that 16 % of medical students reported at least one episode of sleep paralysis. That makes me think that long hours and sleep deprivation may be a major cause of many of these events.
Sleep Paralysis is far more common in African-Americans and in one study of Nigerian subjects more than half had experienced ISP. It is also common in Japanese Subjects.
People who have a Sleep Paralysis event find it helpful to get up move about and make sure they are fully awake before attempting to return to bed. People who do not get out of bed have an increased risk of having multiple episodes of sleep paralysis in the same night. Sleeping flat on your back looking up at the ceiling (supine position) is much more likely to cause a Sleep Paralysis experience than sleeping on your side.
Knowing that episodes of Sleep Paralysis and Hypnogogic Hallucinations are relatively common and most often harmless can help someone cope with these experiences.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.