Sleep Paralysis is listed as a disorder but is really a symptom. People who are extremely sleep deprived can get Sleep Paralysis, many college students get it. For the sleep deprived and those in young adulthood it is usually just one or two episodes that involve Panic Attacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. But more often than not it is a symptom of narcolepsy.
Sleep Paralysis happens when you wake up before REM sleep is finished. During REM sleep your mind is having vivid dreams but your body experiences atonia, which is a relaxing of the voluntary muscles that prevents you from acting out your dreams. When you wake up before REM sleep is finished your mind is awake and your eyes are open but your body is not. Because you are still dreaming, but awake, you can experience hallucinations. You can’t move your arms or legs or speak and you can feel an intense pressure on your chest, making it difficult to breathe. One patient described it as:
“A big scary monster, like a dragon or a big snake, that sits on my chest. I’m completely paralyzed and feel that I can’t breathe but I can see and hear other noises in my room.”
These episodes feel like Panic Attacks and can last from a few seconds up to a minute or two. They aren’t dangerous, just frightening.
Good sleep habits can eliminate the sleep deprivation that causes the occasional episode. If Sleep Paralysis starts to occur frequently you should be tested for any underlying causes, which is probably a sleep disorder.