Sleep paralysis – help for the terrifying condition that affects Kendall Jenner and 4 in 10 people
Kendall Jenner’s sleep paralysis recently made headlines after the supermodel admitted to suffering with it in a recent episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. Anna Magee talked to the experts about the terrifying condition, its causes, symptoms and how to do when it happens
Kendall Jenner has graced the covers of Vogue and lives a covetable life with friends like Cara Delevingne, Alexa Chung and Gigi Hadid. But recently, the 21 yearly supermodel admitted that during sleep, she feels anything but glamorous, often suffering with a condition known as sleep paralysis.
‘It’s like you’re asleep, and then in the middle of the night…basically, your mind wakes up but your body is still asleep,’ Jenner told her sister, Kim Kardashian, 36. ‘You wake up, and nothing can move. It’s the scariest thing in the entire world, you’re freaking out because all you want to do is be able to move, so you’re laying there, trying to move, trying to relax.’
Her sister, Mrs Kanye West (Kardashian), reacted with horror: ‘And you can’t communicate it?’ Kim asked, her mouth agape in shock. Later, in a confessional clip, she reacted further, saying she ‘feels so bad’ for her little sister and that she’s ‘sorry that she’s been going through this.’
It sounds utterly terrifying. So, what is sleep paralysis and what can be done to stop it? We spoke to two leading sleep experts about the condition.
Sleep paralysis is not an uncommon condition, affecting some four out of ten men or women at any age, says Maryanne Taylor, sleep expert at thesleepworks.co.uk. ‘It’s a feeling of being conscious but unable to move either when falling asleep or upon awakening. The sensation usually lasts only a few seconds.’
Normally when people are in the dreaming Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, they are paralysed, which is normal, says Professor Colin Espie, a sleep expert and founder of sleepio.com, a website that helps people overcome sleep problems through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). ‘Usually, if people awaken during this time, their muscle movement returns. But in sleep paralysis, people remain paralysed, and this can cause incredible anxiety.’
‘A person is usually fully aware of what is happening during an episode but they are unable to speak, move their arms and legs, body, and head,’ says Maryanne Taylor. ‘They are able to continue breathing as normal. In addition, some people may also hallucinate during an episode or see or hear things that are not there. It can make a person feel scared and anxious both during and after an episode’.
some things exacerbate it, such as sleep deprivation, sleeping on your back, inconsistent sleep schedules as well as stress and substance abuse
What causes sleep paralysis?
‘It happens when transitioning between stages of wakefulness and sleep and may also accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, an overpowering need to sleep caused by a problem with the brain’s ability to regulate sleep,’ says Maryann Taylor. Though sleep paralysis can hit people intermittently throughout their lives, some things exacerbate it, such as sleep deprivation, sleeping on your back, inconsistent sleep schedules as well as stress and substance abuse, says Taylor.
Alcohol is also an REM sleep suppressant which is why people sometimes find sleep paralysis triggered by a night’s heavy drinking
According to Prof. Espie, certain drugs such as beta-blockers used to treat heart conditions and anxiety, anti-depressants used for depression and anxiety and benzodiazepines used to treat insomnia can exercerbate the condition as they block REM sleep. ‘Alcohol is also an REM sleep suppressant which is why people sometimes find sleep paralysis triggered by a night’s heavy drinking,’ he explains.
What help is out there?
Professor Espie says people sometimes learn techniques to help them break their paralysis in its tracks. ‘They may learn that they can move their finger, eyes, mouth or tongue and that can break the paralysis,’ he explains. Partners may also help. ‘If someone touches them, it can sometimes unlock their sleep paralysis,’ says Prof. Espie. ‘If a partner knows it’s happening, for example if the sufferer can manage to make a noise, their partner may wake and by touching them, get them out of the paralysis.’ Indeed, he says learning to relax and trying to go back to sleep can help some people. ‘Try not to see it as terrifying, as that can make you more susceptible to it, thanks to the anxiety it creates.’ Easier said than done.
Most people will not require treatment for sleep paralysis however improving your general sleep hygiene can reduce episodes, says Maryanne Taylor. Try using no electronics for an hour before you hit the sheets, or alcohol before bed. Stick to regular sleep and wake times.
Crucially, ask yourself some key questions, suggests Prof. Espie. ‘Do I fall asleep or feel sleepy during the day?’ ‘Do I get hallucinations?’ If REM sleep overlaps into wakefulness, which it can do with such conditions, you might experience hallucinations. If you answered yes to either question, see your doctor and ask for a referral to a sleep clinic to ensure you’re not suffering with a serious sleep disorder such as narcolepsy.