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‘Strange people’ who can’t let you enjoy sleep

For some people, sleep paralysis occurs once in their lifetime or never at all, while for others it is frequent and can be irritating.

There are no medical records showing that it is caused by another disease or genetic. However, when sleep paralysis happens frequently, the chronic situation is referred to as isolated recurrent sleep paralysis.

The disorder can happen at night or during the day, and usually leaves a person immobile and not able to talk, scream or move.

It also leaves the body incapacitated and during that time, a person may hallucinate. For instance, one may ‘see’ strange people in the room or feel strangulated.

Causes

The reason why a person suffers from sleep paralysis is because the brain has not yet ‘woken’ up. It happens during the transition from sleep to wakefulness or at the onset of sleep. The body muscles relax and result in temporary paralysis. 

Brian Mang’era, a 29-year-old IT expert suffers from isolated recurrent sleep paralysis which started right after high school.

“My first experience was scary and I thought that I was dying. In the beginning it was so frequent to the extent that I was scared to fall asleep,” he said. As years advanced, the disorder became less prevalent. 

“I experience it more during a day nap, however, instances have significantly gone down, may be because I am now more preoccupied and afternoon naps are rare,” he said.

Being immobile and not able to talk is scary. Although he has experienced sleep paralysis for 11 years, Mang’era admitted that he is yet to get used to it and has never sought medical assistance.

“There is no worse feeling than being helpless and in fear, I can never get used to that. Sometimes it feels like it has lasted an eternity, like I will never get out of it,” he added.

Although there is no medical evidence showing that sleep paralysis represents a serious health or mental problem, it is advisable for the affected person to get checked for narcolepsy (also known as hypnolepsy, is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally) if the condition is recurrent.

A doctor will help the person to address sleep mental health or other disorders that disrupt sleep.

“Causes of sleep paralysis include sleep deprivation, stress, disrupted sleep schedule, shift work sleep disorder, use of alcohol and other drugs, depression and anxiety disorders. It has also been found to be more common when an individual sleeps on their back,” said Dr Florence Njenga.

It may be part of the condition called narcolepsy which is characterised by sudden episodes of refreshing sleep during the day, sleep paralysis and cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone either in parts of the body or the entire body leading to collapse), added the doctor.

However, the disorder can be managed if a person is aware of what is happening to them. Stress, fear or anxiety levels will significantly go down when a person understands about the disorder.

Besides, one can tame it by observing proper sleep etiquette and by avoiding alcohol and other drugs or any other brain affecting substance.