How to Prevent Sleep Paralysis: 9 Clever Strategies
In case you weren’t already aware, sleep paralysis is one of those What Did You Expect When You Asked conditions – it characterizes a complete lack of control over your body whilst either fully asleep or semi-conscious.
Generally speaking, it’s a fairly common issue and doesn’t actually tend to be too concerning from a medical standpoint. Most bouts of sleep paralysis last around five minutes and the paralyzed patient awakes next morning, spritely and limber with little memory of the night’s issues.
This isn’t quite the case for every sufferer, however; with centuries of complaints to do with mysterious, ghostly women and devilish, gremlin like creatures sitting on the person’s chest and looking them in the eye…We’ll get to this later on.
All of this being said, though, there are some more extreme versions of the condition (episodes which can last hours and come with horrific nightmares, anxiety attacks, hallucinations and a strange effect over the senses). Even the normal, mild, paralysis can be deeply unsettling if it catches you unawares.
So, here’s an involved and detailed list of some different tactics that you can take on board to prevent or cut down the frequency of sleep paralysis in your life. It’s always nice to have something to read in bed, right?
Control your sleep schedule
Let’s start off with the obvious and the good old ‘go-to’ whenever it comes to sleep issues. A great many somnambulant conditions stem from simply not getting enough sleep or not getting enough on a regular basis (people with shifting work schedules, students, or folks who can’t seem to stop at Cat Video #234 when it’s already 3 AM).
Sleep paralysis can stem from your body shifting between sleep cycles in a disjointed or abrupt fashion – such as suddenly leaping from a deep, quiet sleep into REM-sleep with little time for the transition. Your body can react to the sudden change and hold you captive until you dip back under properly.
A solid, regular and disciplined sleep schedule is tantamount to a healthy sleep cycle in and of itself. So, ensuring that you get to bed early and squeeze in your recommended eight-ish hours at the same time every night will do wonders to reduce your risk of paralysis.
Basically, you’re reprogramming your body’s internal clock by lying in bed. What’s not to like?
Sleep on your side if possible
The majority of sleep paralysis anecdotes come from people who sleep on their back – indeed, some old wives’ tales are thought to stem from old fashioned sleep paralysis misinterpreted back in the day. For example, the myths of gremlins appearing on your chest and staring into your soul; I’m not here to badmouth any gremlins out there, but it seems much more logical that these urban legends were really just a mix of the heavy chested feeling that can come with sleep paralysis, perhaps mixed in with the hallucination effect.
Nobody really knows why sleeping on your back is so synonymous with the condition, but there is ample evidence to show that sleeping either on your front or to the side runs less risk of it occurring. Many long-sufferers of sleep paralysis also advocate sleeping facing the wall so as to limit the distress of semi-conscious delusions/hallucinations (a common ‘image’ is somebody standing at the foot of the bed…).
If you have trouble kicking the back-sleeping habit, try constructing a wall out of your pillows to prevent you from rolling back over onto your back!
Might still be worth a call to the Ghostbusters, though. Just for gremlin insurance.
Increase your activity/exercise
Again, this is a common piece of sleepy wisdom, but regular exercise can be incredibly beneficial to constructing and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. The extra activity can help to tire you out, preparing you for a natural, replenishing sleep rather than a grudging slumber before work in the morning.
Not to mention the slew of benefits that come from regular exercise – improved cardiovascular health, decreased restlessness and improved mental health (particularly anxiety and stress, which can be huge components of sleep paralysis; more on that later).
Cut out as many disruptions as possible
Given that one of the basic causes of sleep paralysis is a sudden waking from REM sleep or even deeper sleep into the REM phase – it makes sense to eradicate as many possible sleep disruptions from your general vicinity.
Some studies have actually shown that sleep paralysis can be intentionally invoked via exposure to disruptions during key moments of the sleep cycle (I know, I know; I have no idea why you’d do it on purpose either. Science or something).
Turn off any LED lights that might illuminate the dark of your bedroom, make sure your blinds are completely closed (maybe even invest in some blackout blinds and pretend it’s WWII… But that might elevate your stress levels), try and decrease any external sounds that you can and so on.
You also want to avoid falling asleep with your TV or music playing… which brings me onto the next point.
Cancel out any pre-bed stimulation
No, no, I don’t mean that kind of stimulation…don’t worry, the bedroom is still allowed for activities other than sleeping.
What I am referring to, however, is our love of television, movies, music, social media, radio etc. All of these things have no place in your room within one hour of going to sleep. I know, it might sound like the hard line rules of a monastery, but it will help your ability to drop off.
Something as simple as a few moments browsing Facebook on your phone can ‘wake up’ your brain, and keep you restless for a long time afterward. Try to give yourself an hour without any of these modern distractions before sleep and you drastically reduce your chance of a disrupted night’s sleep and possible paralysis.
Improve your diet
Yet another old Healthy Sleep adage: a healthy diet can vastly improve your sleep cycle, but in this article I’m specifically referring to food and drinks that are known to keep you awake and restless when it comes to winding down.
Remove excess of caffeine, sugar and alcohol where possible (especially the closer it is to bed time) and avoid any big meals shortly before bedding down for the night. Digesting large meals right before bed can be disruptive to your body in a multitude of ways, sleep being one of the biggies.
Plus, you know, crumbs in bed? Jeez.
Additional healthy bonus point: cut down on smoking (or, preferably, give it up altogether) so as to subtract nicotine stimulation from your body, plus the numerous health issues that stem from a smoking habit can also affect sleep.
Reduce stress and anxiety
I touched on it earlier, but here it is in full: reducing stress and anxiety where possible will likely lower your risk of sleep paralysis by a significant amount. The deeper, more relaxed and uninterrupted your sleep cycle is, the less likely you are to jump between rhythms and shock yourself into a paralyzed state.
Some of the most popular methods of relaxing prior to bed time are to meditate or practice some calming breathing exercises – this helps you to change your focus from things worrying you and instead give your attention to the simple act of breathing, here and now.
Perhaps listening to some favorite or relaxing music/sounds can help to bring you down to a level, calm place (just make sure it’s not within that sacred hour we talked about!).
Some teas such as green tea, Chamomile or Valerian are known to have properties that not only help to reduce stress and anxiety but also promote a nice relaxed night of sleep if drunk close to bed time.
Consider your comfort
A short but relevant point – we say a bad workman blames his tools, but without the right setup, a fruitful night’s sleep is impossible. Consider changing mattresses or beds if you find yourself uncomfortable at night time.
Remember that a huge part of sleep paralysis is the physical side of things – the more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to carry on through the night uninterrupted!
No, I’m not a bed salesman, I promise. If I can just bring your attention over here for a moment, though, I just got some great pillows in stock. I thought of you as soon as I spotted them.
Go to the doctor!
If you find that sleep paralysis is making a regular appearance in your life (say once a week for a prolonged period of time, or more), despite your best efforts to narrow down the cause, then it’s definitely time to talk to a medical professional.
It’s important to identify when something is presenting a sincere medical issue and when you’re suffering from self-inflicted symptoms. If you’ve followed all of the above steps, with discipline, and still find yourself regularly harassed by the condition – it’s time to take a serious step towards professional help.
Hopefully this list of preventions will help you reclaim your night; and kick those hallucinatory gremlins to the curb.