Imagine you wake up to find a stranger choking you and you are totally unable to move or respond in any way. Terrifying episodes like these are known as sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is a frightening event; fortunately, it does not last more than a minute or two and it usually happens when people are falling asleep or just waking up.
When you are in the stage of sleep where vivid dreams occur (known as REM sleep), your arms and legs are temporarily paralyzed so you cannot act out your dreams. If you wake up during this REM stage, you feel unable to move and may even hallucinate.
When people have a nightmare, they sleep, have a dream and then wake up. When they are experiencing sleep paralysis, they may have a dream when they are already awake.
People who experience sleep paralysis can have vivid hallucinations, such as feeling like they are levitating or that someone is in their bedroom or a variety of other strange experiences. Since breathing can be irregular during REM sleep, those experiencing sleep paralyses may feel like they are suffocating or are not able to breathe easily.
Experts say that up to 8 percent of people experience frightening episodes of sleep paralysis; it is especially common among young adults and women. People with depression, anxiety and the chronic sleep disorder narcolepsy are also more likely to experience it, the researchers said.
Improving sleep habits can help you avoid these episodes, including going to bed and waking up around the same time each day; avoiding the use of digital equipment before bed and avoiding stimulants close to bedtime