Although we can read countless scientific studies, articles, blog postings and medical diagnoses that tell us sleep paralysis is – for the most part – not particularly dangerous, nor symptomatic of any underlying health issues: it’s incredibly difficult to shake the worries and horror when it occurs.
Telling a regular sleep paralysis sufferer that it’s nothing to worry about is tantamount to telling someone in the midst of a panic attack to calm down. It just makes the symptoms worse and heightens the anxiety of the whole ordeal.
That’s why we’re taking a succinct look at some of the best ways to cope, in the moment, when sleep paralysis sinks its claws into our restless nights.
How to Get Out of Sleep Paralysis
These techniques are easy to remember and easy to practice, even when you’re in the moment of terrified paralysis. Here’s what you need to do…
Study up on the signs
There are different degrees of sleep paralysis – it isn’t always categorized by a simple inability to move (although that is, of course, the biggest symptom). Smaller, less overbearing or obvious issues can also be part of the paralysis experience.
These issues might manifest themselves in a feeling of choking or difficulty catching a full breath, a deeply unsettling feeling of there being something or someone lurking nearby – remember that sleep paralysis messes with your senses – a palpable confusion (remember you’re still caught between sleep and wakefulness, things will feel off), and of course, simple, awful fear.
It’s important to know thy enemy to a certain degree, and once you’ve identified these symptoms, you can begin to calm yourself down when they occur.
Start small with movements
If you are unfortunate enough to experience full-on sleep paralysis, where you can’t lift your arms or legs, or shift your weight from side to side, the immediate reaction is to try and do these physically tiring things.
When you find you can’t lift your arm, the fear and anxiety associated with that inability can multiply exponentially until all you can think about is lifting it.
Stop that thought process in its tracks and start small, instead. Try to wiggle your toes or your fingers, very small and gentle movements at first until you begin to limber up… Keep at it, and remain calm while doing so and you’ll slowly lift out of the trapped sensation and regain control of your body.
Roll your eyes and study the room
Similar to the small movements in your fingers and toes, rolling your eyes is another good way to begin establishing control over your movements again. The bonus is that by taking in your surroundings and actively studying them, you can begin to reverse engineer your mind: you are in control, you are looking at your environment.
This can feel like a horribly large mountain to climb, especially if you’re experiencing any hallucinations or unnerving feelings about a ‘presence’ in the room – but by staying strong and not diverting your gaze, you’re showing yourself that this is nothing but make-believe.
Practice and concentrate on breathing
Meditative breathing is the saving grace of sleep problems, including the horrors of sleep paralysis. Simply concentrate on taking deep, long, relaxed breaths, in and out, in and out – focus on nothing else. This is both a reminder that you’re in control and alive; but also helps to calm the anxieties and let more oxygen into your bloodstream, which may help you nod off back to a proper sleep.
This, again, can feel difficult to do – especially if you’re experiencing the breathlessness symptoms of paralysis, but just remember that you’re breathing just fine, regardless of how it feels.
Focus on something nice
An alternative to thinking about your breathing is to, instead, think happy thoughts. Picture a nice environment with relaxing activities – friends and family are there, happy to see you. Add in details; what does it smell like? What are people doing? What’s the weather like?
The more mental distractions you give yourself, the less worried you’ll become about the paralysis and more likely to either lift out of it or fall back to a comforting sleep.
If you’re finding it difficult to picture anything detailed or extraordinary, then simply imagine yourself doing something physical. Picture yourself running, jumping, dancing, swimming – whatever takes your fancy. It might seem like a sort of self-imposed cruel irony, but this is actually a fairly well-accepted method of transcending the experience and calming your electric nerves.
Accept it for what it is
This is easily the most difficult coping tactic – but sometimes it’s the only one available. Although it might not feel like it, you are in control of your thoughts and emotions: therefore when sleep paralysis takes hold, it’s up to you to remind yourself that this is nothing but the result of jumping from deep sleep to REM or something similar.
Accept the scenario for what it is: a bizarre set of temporary circumstances that will cause you no harm. All you need to do is sit back and let it take its course. This is nothing but your sleep addled mind playing tricks on you.
Sleep paralysis is still a mystery in many regards, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and you’re not experiencing some hitherto unknown illness when it occurs. It truly is all in your mind, and hopefully these six coping mechanisms will help you breeze through your next experience.
Also, make sure to read up on our tips for preventing sleep paralysis in the first place!