Repeated sleep paralysis while falling asleep?
May 27, 2016 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm going through a really stressful period in my life and only sleeping about 5.5 hours per night. While falling asleep, with my mind going and going, I realize that I'm awake and paralyzed and it causes delayed release of adrenaline as I sort of eventually jerk awake..

This happens a bunch of times in a row, and it's quite stressful, though I know it's harmless, aside from affecting my sleep. Does anyone have suggestions about how to address this?

I have sleep paralysis on and off, but this is a new beast. In some ways, this is the most stressful time in my life, ever, so that could explain it all, I guess. I'm managing the stress in a bunch of ways, though I imagine sleep itself would improve the stress situation, so it's a bit of a catch-22.

But would like a particular protein drink help, etc., etc.? Suggestions appreciated.
posted by zeek321 to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you sleep on your back? When I've had weird frequent sleep paralysis issues it always happens when I'm super stressed and sleeping on my back. Sleeping on my side or stomach seems to make it happen a lot less for me.
posted by ilovewinter at 7:51 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also get those kinds of problems when I sleep on my back. Sleep paralysis, jerking awake, that sort of thing. I've given up trying, and just sleep on my side now.

Also, as you said above, just getting more and more regular sleep will probably help with you sleep quality, since being better rested will reduce your stress and anxiety. There are two big things that I have found help with this for me: prioritizing sleep, and medication.

What I mean by prioritizing sleep is that you need to be realistic about when you need to be in bed with the lights out if you're going to get eight hours, and realistic about the time that you're going to actually wake up. For me, that means I need to have lights out about eight and a half hours before I wake up; so if I'm planning to be out of bed at 6:30 but know that the cat is going to wake me up at 5:45 (the little shit), I need to be in bed with the lights out by 9:15 to give me a half hour to fall asleep and then another eight hours before miss kitty starts her begging routine. I need to be realistic about the fact that if I'm staying up reading until 9:45, I'm short changing myself on sleep. It's not always easy, but if I can be disciplined then it helps a lot.

The other thing that helps is medication. This doesn't have to be a prescription med, and in fact I'd suggest not starting out that way. What works for me is benadryl and THC. I don't know if the latter is an option for you, but benadryl probably is. In any case, I find that if I take a benadryl and have a tiny toke right before bed (just a tiny amount is all I need, I'm trying to sleep not having a party) I'll be out like a light half an hour after my body hits the mattress, no matter what. Nothing else I've ever tried is that reliable, though YMMV of course.

If anxiety and racing thoughts are an issue for you, I also find that reading helps me there. I like to turn the light on my kindle way down low and read with the lights out, which helps me put aside the thoughts of the day so that my brain can calm down and I get go into sleep mode. When I find that I can no longer follow the words on the page, I just thumb the standby button and let the device fall out of my slack, sleepy hands.
posted by Cashmere Sock Handjob at 8:17 AM on May 27, 2016

In addition to sleeping on your side or stomach, try taking a decongestant, using a neti pot, saline rinse or saline nasal spray, and wearing a Breathe Right strip on your nose. (The ugly beige adheres much better than the clear, IME.)

Listening to soothing music - streaming services often call this "spa music" or "relaxation" - or a low-key podcast, really helps put me to sleep. The kind of podcasts I like for sleep are about astronomy, Buddhist philosophy, and other esoteric subjects, spoken by people with soft voices. It doesn't compel me to stay awake; I just let the voices wash over me.

If you're skipping dinner, try having a protein-rich snack a couple hours before bed - yogurt, chicken breast, string cheese. This will keep your blood sugar from cratering. I find this helps my sleep a lot.

Finally, if you suspect you have a sleep breathing issue, get a sleep test. My nightmares and sleep paralysis were due not only to stress, but sleep apnea; one CPAP later, and I sleep so much better even when I've had a stressful day.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:19 AM on May 27, 2016

What helps me when I get into one of these cycles -

- Sleep on my side rather than my back (I hate this but it does work)
- Cut back on drinking alcohol (it seems to happen to me more often on the nights following mornings when I'm hungover)
- Don't wait until I'm super super tired (like, falling asleep watching TV tired) to go to bed - go to bed way before that.
- When mine comes on, I can kind of feel it coming (like I'm in the ocean and about to be pulled under by the tide), so I do whatever I can to shake myself awake before it sets in fully, get up and get some water (with the light on), and then go back in bed (on my side).
posted by sallybrown at 9:07 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't lay on your back, if you end up turning onto your back in your sleep, sew a rubber ball onto the back of your shirt, or put a large, firm pillow behind you when you sleep.

White noise from a fan/machine can help too. Music is fine too if that's your thing, for me it gets me more riled up.
If you use devices before bed: Put flux on your laptop, and on your phone(iphones now have the "night shift" option as well). This has been huge for me as I read on my laptop to unwind at night.

A huge thing is also temperature and blanket type. If it's hot and you're under a heavy blanket, sleep paralysis is gonna be worse. Cool air to breathe and a fluffy,light blanket can do a lot.

Go to bed tired, but not exhausted. If this means getting a few daytime naps to reset yourself, so be it.

Also, I really do not suggest you try benadryl. A lot of people complain that it actually causes worse sleep paralysis and waking nightmares. Medicating sleep problems is something you don't want to do on your own, it's something for a doctor.
posted by InkDrinker at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2016

This used to happen to me all the time - for decades. Always much worse during periods of stress. Hasn't happened at all since I started using a CPAP machine. I'm not saying you have sleep apnea, I'm just saying that something about the CPAP machine also seems to eliminate the sleep paralysis/fear/jerk awake cycle.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:43 AM on May 27, 2016

You might find that practicing progressive muscle relaxation before going to sleep might help your body relax before you go to sleep and not carry your stress into your sleep as much.
posted by ukdanae at 12:43 PM on May 27, 2016

I get this when also dealing with a lot of vertigo- it's as fun as it sounds. The only thing that helps is Ativan. See if you can get a super low dose. Sleeping pills (OTC stuff) only ever made it worse but Ativan stops the spinning. Again, mine is related to vertigo mostly but those medications help you sleep.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:45 PM on May 27, 2016

I'm a sleep medicine Physician Assistant and I am not giving you medical advice. Based on how much sleep you are (not) getting I would suggest you read up on sleep paralysis as a result of chronic sleep deprivation).
posted by teamnap at 8:35 PM on May 27, 2016

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