Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that is suffered by an estimated three million people worldwide. Although narcolepsy can have bad effects on a person’s life, there are far more scary aspects to this disorder than just falling asleep during inopportune moments. Narcolepsy and sleep paralysis are both sleep disorders that are linked by their unpredictability. This factor alone can lead to accidental falls that can cause serious physical injury to people with narcolepsy.
Sleep paralysis and narcolepsy are disorders in which the brain’s function controlling the body’s sleeping and waking cycles is interrupted, which can sometimes cause hallucinations and the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Sleep paralysis is suffered by as many as four out of ten people worldwide in many different age groups. A high percentage of people suffer from narcolepsy symptoms and sleep paralysis combined. A person who suffers with both of these symptoms combined usually has great trouble living life on a day to day basis.
Narcolepsy and Sleep Paralysis Symptoms
People who suffer from narcolepsy often experience:
- E.D.S. or Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
- Cataplexy, which is the loss of muscle control during a narcoleptic attack
- Sleep Paralysis
- R.E.M. sleep disturbances that can change dramatically
- Disturbed nocturnal sleep such as insomnia, nighttime sleepwalking, sleep talking and/or acting out during dreams
As well as these symptoms, people suffering from sleep paralysis often experience:
- A temporary loss of speech and the ability to move while falling asleep
- Being aware, but unable to react. Similar to cataplexy
- Panic attacks while sleeping
- Hearing voices
Although the loss of muscle control as with cataplexy, and speech are temporary, the impact on the lives of people suffering from the symptoms of narcolepsy and sleep paralysis can be drastic. Imagine the embarrassment and helplessness that a person feels when having dinner in a public setting and falling asleep, while remaining totally aware that it’s happening, but being completely unable to do or say anything about it. People may fall asleep during classes or while working, leading to disciplinary action or even serious physical harm. Falls are fairly common among people suffering from narcolepsy.
The symptoms and signs of narcolepsy and sleep paralysis and their limitations include:
- Inability to operate machinery or vehicles
- Losing items or storing items in random places
- Illegible handwriting
- Memory lapses
- Inability to concentrate when faced with a passive situations
It should be noted that while people suffering from narcolepsy often suffer from sleep paralysis, not all who suffer from sleep paralysis suffer from narcolepsy. Scientists have hinted at genetics as the cause of sleep paralysis.
Other causes include:
- Jet lag
- Lack of sleep
- Changes in sleeping schedules
- Bipolar disorder or high stress
- Environmental changes
- Substance abuse
Sleep paralysis can occur at two different times during a person’s sleep cycle. The first is when a person is just falling asleep, which is called hypnogogic. The second is when a person is waking up, which is called hypnopompic.
Common occurrences during both of these include:
- Hearing noises or strange sounds
- Hearing voices
- The feeling of being watched
- A severe sense of being suffocated
- The feeling of being held down
Hypnogogic Sleep Paralysis
When trying to fall asleep, people generally become more and more relaxed and less aware until sleep finally settles upon them. The transition from being awake to being asleep is usually not noticed. In hypnogogic sleep paralysis, a person becomes aware while falling asleep, but remains unable to speak or move.
Hypnopompic Sleep Paralysis
While sleeping, a person experiences two types of sleep. The first is N.R.E.M. or non-rapid eye movement sleep and there is R.E.M. or rapid eye movement sleep. N.R.E.M. sleep takes as much as seventy-five percent of a person’s normal sleep time. During this time the body is recharged. R.E.M. sleep is the state a person enters when dreaming, characterized by the eyes moving quickly in a back and forth motion. During the end of R.E.M. is when a person begins to wake up. If someone becomes aware of their surroundings, but is unable to speak or move while waking up, they suffer from hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
Generally a person suffering with sleep paralysis does not need to seek medical treatment unless the symptoms worsen or begin to cause insomnia, sleepiness during the normal day or anxiety.
Certain lifestyle changes must be made to prevent the symptoms of narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. So people in otherwise good health can who have chronic sleep disorders can live relatively normal lives.
These habits are as follows:
- Avoid stressful situations
- An improved or more balanced diet
- Trying not to sleep while still hungry (Although it should be stated that one shouldn’t eat right before bedtime)
- Monitored caffeine intake
- Change sleeping positions, Try to sleep on sides instead of back
- Seek medical treatment for mental disorders (Although it should be stated that sleep paralysis is not commonly linked to psychiatric issues)
Supernatural Views of Sleep Paralysis
In folklore, the signs and symptoms of sleep paralysis have often been called the hag phenomenon. This is said to happen when an old hag leaves her body to temporarily sit on the chest of her targeted victims. Tales like this give a familiar ring to the symptoms people experience when suffering from narcolepsy paralysis. Evil or menacing presences, hearing voices, the feeling of being watched or physically harmed by demons, and alien abductions are all stories that date back centuries. Cultures from around the globe have tales of demonic creatures that thrive on causing terror to helpless humans, especially at night.
The horror novelist, Steven King has also touched on the supernatural topics concerning sleep paralysis in his story-made-movie “Cat’s Eye”. In one part of this story, a young girl is terrorized by an evil gnome while she is sleeping. The gnome sits on her chest and tries to suck the life out of her. Her parents blame the cat for this sleep disturbance, which is a common urban legend about cats. In the end the cat becomes her ally in the fight against the demonic gnome, which changes her parent’s perspective on their pet.