What do we know about sleep paralysis?

Open access

Summary

Introduction: Sleep paralysis (SP) is a condition that widely occurs among people all over the world. It has been known for thousands of years and is rooted in the culture of many countries. It arouses strong emotions, though still little is known about it. The clinical picture of the disorder can be very diverse. It is often accompanied by hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations, somatic complaints and the feeling of intense anxiety. A feeling of paralysis in the body with inhibited consciousness is always observed with the experience. SP pathophysiology is not fully understood, however, most theories explaining this phenomenon are based on the assumption that it results from dysfunctional overlap of REM sleep and wakefulness. It is experienced by healthy people, but it is more often associated with somatic and mental disorders, which is why it is becoming an object of interest for researchers.

Aim: The aim of this work is to present the most important information about the disorder known as sleep paralysis - its history, cultural context, pathophysiology, prevalence, symptomatology, coexistence with other somatic and mental disorders as well as diagnostics and available forms of prevention and treatment.

Materials and methodology: The available literature was reviewed using the Google Scholar bibliographic databases searching the following keywords: sleep paralysis, REM sleep parasomnias, sleep disorder, night terrors and time descriptors: 1980-2018.

Results 1. Sleep paralysis has already been described in antiquity, and interpretations related to its occurrence are largely dependent on culture and beliefs.

2. Symptomatology of the disorder is very diverse: both mental and somatic symptoms are present.

3. The pathophysiology of the disorder has not been fully explained. The basis of most theories regarding sleep paralysis is the assumption that it results from the dysfunctional overlap of REM sleep and wakefulness.

4. The prevalence of SP at least once in a lifetime is 7.6% in the general population, although it is estimated that it is much more frequent in people with various mental and somatic disorders.

5. Treatment of SP is associated with a change in lifestyle and the use of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy.

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