Sleep Paralysis Treatment: Coping and Preventing

For better understanding the various options for sleep paralysis treatment, one needs to know about sleep stages and muscle atonia (a condition when the motor neurons are not stimulated and hence the body’s muscles do not move) which is normally associated with REM sleep. Treatment should not rule out the presence of narcolepsy in case symptoms persist.

Is sleep paralysis treatment always associated with narcolepsy treatment? 

Narcolepsy is a condition marked by an irrepressible need to sleep and such sudden sleep attacks can happen unannounced at anytime, anywhere. These sleep attacks usually last for 10 to 20 minutes after which the patient feels refreshed.

Sleep paralysis is often considered to be associated with this medical condition. But the truth of the matter is that not all individuals who experience narcolepsy symptoms (including cataplexy) experience sleep paralysis. This is obvious if one studies the prevalence of both: sleep paralysis is present in 20 to 40% of the population, whereas narcolepsy prevalence is between 0.03 and 0.16%

An overview of sleep paralysis treatment basics: 

Stress management: One of the most important triggers of sleep apnea is stress and disturbed sleep. In fact, both are closely interlinked. Research shows that many people who had suffered bouts of sleep paralysis years back but recovered from them start to experience them afresh when family, professional or job-related stress start to affect their lives.

Sleep paralysis is essentially a REM-related sleep problem. This means that the individual does not sleep for sufficient periods to accumulate normal REM and enters REM phase prematurely, thereby triggering sleep paralysis. The most effective way to cope with this problem is to monitor sleep schedules more accurately; fix sleeping and waking times which tend to be upset during periods of stress.

Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, eating heavy meals at night, excessive smoking is signs of stress and subsequently pave the way for sleep paralysis.

Changing sleeping position: Research shows that lying face-up is five times more likely during sleep paralysis.  Though sleep paralysis can happen in any sleep position for some people, 60% of sleep paralysis episodes occur when lying on the back. To cope with this problem, using the ‘tennis ball technique’ during sleep helps. It involves sewing a pocket on the back of one’s sleeping clothes and keeping one or two tennis balls in it, in order to prevent rolling on one’s back during sleep.

Try moving the limbs in small movements: During a sleep paralysis episode it is impossible to move the limbs and often the tongue too. However the smaller muscles of the eye, fingers and toes do not get paralyzed to that extent.  Many people have got results by moving the eye rapidly back and forth to end a sleep paralysis episode.

Drugs and medication: Though the first step in sleep paralysis treatment is to eliminate the triggers that cause the condition, when the episodes recur several times, it might call for medical intervention. There are several medications, mostly those affecting neurotransmitter serotonin, which are used to reduced episodes. However, stoppage of taking these SSRIs may increase the experiences.

Though anti-depressants are used to treat depression, etc, non-addictive tricyclic antidepressants are also used for sleep paralysis treatment. Such medications work by altering the duration and depth of REM sleep.

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