Hypnogogia and Sleep Paralysis
Hypnogogia is a disorder usually described as sleep paralysis, although this definition does not indicate all the possible symptoms experienced by sufferers. In the period of waking up or falling asleep sufferers of hypnogogia feel awake in the mind but paralyzed in the body. These are mild to severe episodes and those who have them can find them quite frightening. Studies performed in sleep labs show that while a patient with hynogogia is awake and aware of their surroundings, instruments measuring brain waves record their brain as asleep.
Not all episodes of hypnogogia are just a feeling or paralysis. Patients have reported a feeling of falling, auditory or visual disturbances and some report feeling joy. Usually the feeling is short. It is suspected that hypnogogia is a symptom of narcolepsy but there is still much research to be done and this is only one theory. Some make the distinction between hypnagogic hallucinations (which take place in the transition from wakefulness to sleep) and hypnopompic hallucinations (in the transistion between sleep and waking.)
Imagine awaking to strange faces and voices but you cannot respond or wake up. Sufferers report an accompanying feeling of dread. What causes hypnogogia or sleep paralysis and what if anything can be done? The University of London did a study and found that up to 40% of the population has experienced hypnogogic visions at some point and around 5% have had intense experiences. This condition is also referred to as night terrors due to the total loss of body control and frightening experiences like being unable to breathe or even seeing a scary figure on top of you.
Why sets off hypnogogia (also called hypnagogia)? When we go into REM sleep our brain restricts our body from moving by blocking the signals to the body that tell us to move. This is so when you are running in your dream, you are not running in bed. The theory most widely accepted is that hypnogogia sufferers’ brains simply do not open up that block quickly enough after waking.
Some people with this disorder try sleeping pills and others learn to live with mild experiences and are alright once they can talk themselves through it. For those with intense experiences, working with a sleep study laboratory can help them better understand what is happening and their some treatment options. There are sleep specialists who claim that rolling your eyes back can be enough to signal the brain that you are awake. There have been studies that show a higher incidence of hypnogogia in night workers and people who have been deprived of sleep. This is yet another reason to get your eight hours every night.
Believe it or not, some people actually try to remain in the sleep paralysis state as long as possible. For those with positive experiences, like feelings of joy or seeing kind faces, this can be very relaxing for them. For those who want to reduce or eliminate their hypnogogia, there is medical intervention, or for mild cases there are some recommended simple lifestyle changes. One lifestyle change is to shut off television and relax before bed to reduce brain stimulation before sleeping. Reducing or eliminating drug and caffeine use can reduce the incidence of hypnogogia. Also, the abuse of methamphetamines may cause this disorder.
The treatment plans offered to sleep paralysis patients generally involve a combination approach, but the actual components of the plan are dependent on the diagnosis. It usually includes medication, treatment of any medical conditions and behavioral therapy. There has been recent evidence presented that behavioral therapy is more effective than medication.
A combination of lifestyle changes and behavioral therapy can offer
relief for the mild to moderate hypnogogia sufferers. An increase
in the quality of nutrition, exercise and reduction of stimulants
may offer a natural way to treat the problem. For the more serious
cases, medication in addition to lifestyle changes and behavioral
therapy reduces the severity of the episodes and possibly reduces
the number of episodes. There is currently no cure for hypnogogia,
but patients that educate themselves on the disorder and experiment
with treatment options will find the right combination for them.
"O Sleep, rest of all things, mildest of the gods, balm of the soul..."
(Iris to Hypnos. Ovid, Metamorphoses)