Sleep Apnea and Sleep Paralysis: How They Are Related

Having good sleep habits is important for good health. Without it, you can get heart disease, unstable moods, and a weak immune system, which are all long-term problems. Sleep loss and sleep disorders go hand-in-hand. Studies have most often linked sleep paralysis to narcolepsy, but sleep apnea and sleep paralysis are also linked. In this blog, we will review sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, and how they are associated with each other. 

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts many times during the night. You might have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. There are three main kinds of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – The most common type, happens when the muscles in the back of the throat relax
  • Central sleep apnea – This happens when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to your breathing muscles
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome – Also called treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, is when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles in the back of your throat loosen up. These muscles support the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils, the side walls of the throat, and the tongue. As you breathe in, your airway gets smaller or closes when your muscles relax, and you can’t get enough air, which can cause your blood to have less oxygen. When you stop being able to breathe, your brain briefly wakes you up so you can open your airway again. Most of the time, this awakening is so short that you don’t remember it. It could make you snort, choke, or gasp and this pattern can happen anywhere from five to thirty times an hour all night long, making it hard to get to the deep, restful stages of sleep.

Central sleep apnea is a less common type of sleep apnea that happens when your brain fails to send signals to your breathing muscles. This means that for a short time, you don’t try to breathe. You might wake up short of breath, or you might find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a condition in which you lose control of your muscles for a short time right before you fall asleep or wake up, this is called atonia.  During sleep paralysis, people often have hallucinations on top of being unable to move. It is a type of parasomnia to have sleep paralysis. Parasomnias are strange things that people do while they sleep, and sleep paralysis is a type of REM parasomnia because it is linked to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of the sleep cycle.

What are the Types of Sleep Paralysis?

There are two main types of sleep paralysis, which include:

  • Isolated sleep paralysis happens when the episodes are not caused by narcolepsy, which is a neurological disorder that makes it hard for the brain to control wakefulness and often leads to sleep paralysis
  • Recurrent sleep paralysis is when it happens more than once
  • Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis (RISP) is a term used for when the above two characteristics are used together when someone who does not have narcolepsy has sleep paralysis regularly

What Causes Sleep Paralysis?

No one knows for sure what causes sleep paralysis. Studies have looked at data to find out what makes people more likely to have sleep paralysis, but the results have been mixed. Based on this research, scientists think that sleep paralysis is caused by more than one thing.

Some of the strongest links between sleep paralysis and sleep disorders or other problems with sleeping have been found. People with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to have sleep paralysis. One study found that 38% of people with obstructive sleep apnea had sleep paralysis as well.

Sleep paralysis has been linked to insomnia symptoms like having a hard time falling asleep and being very sleepy during the day. People whose biological rhythms don’t match their local day-night cycles, like those with jet lag or those who work night shifts, may also be more likely to have sleep paralysis.

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Sleep Paralysis?

Both sleep apnea and sleep paralysis can be influenced by drinking alcohol, drinking coffee, or smoking. Poor sleep hygiene leads to sleep disturbances, which make it hard to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep makes sleep apnea worse, which can increase the likelihood of sleep paralysis, and worsen its symptoms. Disorders show up when you don’t get enough sleep, and the disorders cause more stress. The good news is that if you know that not getting enough sleep is the cause, you can do something about it, here are some tips on how to stop having trouble sleeping regularly:

  • Reduce caffeine, alcohol, and smoking – People need to sleep, so treating sleep apnea and sleep paralysis at night should be a top priority. Examine your relationship with caffeine, alcohol, and smoking to improve the physical, mental, and emotional health of your body
  • Exercise – Sleep apnea can be caused by extra weight, so exercise can help. Your sleep apnea might get better if you take better care of your body. Plus, exercise helps keep your body temperature and your heart healthy, which in turn can mean better sleep for you
  • Diet – Food and exercise go together, but most people don’t think about them together when it comes to sleep health. Still, the saying “you are what you eat” is true. Different foods affect how well you sleep, so think about how changing your diet can help you get a better night’s rest
  • Practice good sleep routine – Sleep is a practice.  Seeing it this way helps other people adopt it as their way of living. By taking care of yourself when you sleep, you’ll see how everything is linked. Good sleep hygiene means:
  • Having calming habits like meditating or writing before bed
  • Eliminating screen time an hour before bed
  • Putting sleep first
  • Using your CPAP machine every night if you use one
  • Getting to bed every night at the same time

Your mind and body are retrained when you sleep well. When you reset your biorhythms, it’s easier to fall asleep

Are you struggling with sleep paralysis or symptoms of the condition and want to know if you’re at risk? Fill out our questionnaire here, or give us a call at (866)875-9765.