Stuck Asleep: Night Terrors, Sleep Paralysis, and Mental Health

woman asleep struggling with mental health

Have you ever woken up from a nightmare but found that you couldn’t move? You could see, hear, and smell, but you were completely paralyzed. To make matters worse, the line between waking life and your nightmare was blurred, so you may have seen or heard things that terrified and triggered you, but you were powerless to stop them. Then, suddenly, you’re body comes online and you become alert, sweating, anxious, and terrified. If this describes an experience you’ve had, you may suffer from sleep paralysis.

Or, you may have recurring, intense night terrors. Night terrors differ from the garden variety nightmare in that they cause the dreamer a greater deal of distress and anxiety, and they often have recurring themes.

Sleep paralysis and night terrors can both have a plethora of different causes. Sleep scientists, doctors, and psychiatrists have been studying these phenomena for decades. One common denominator they have found among those who suffer from one or the other (or, in many cases, both) is PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Scared and Asleep: The Science of Sleep Paralysis and Night Terrors

Sleep paralysis occurs during REM sleep. As we dream, our body becomes temporarily paralyzed (referred to as atonia) so we don’t act out our dreams and potentially harm ourselves in the process. Sleep paralysis occurs when the barrier between dreaming life and waking life is broken, but our body is still under the spell of atonia. The end result is being stuck asleep in our beds while our nightmares continue to play around us, often causing intense fear, distress, and terror.

Night terrors function similarly. They differ from normal nightmares in that they can be intense, recurring, and often plague the sufferer during the daytime.

Connecting Mental Health Disorder and Sleep Disturbances

There have been plenty of studies conducted over the last several decades on the connection between sleep disturbances and our physical and mental health. Psychiatrist Sharon O’Brien writes “One study found that patients were more likely to experience sleep terrors if they had higher levels of anxiety, depression, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.” While sleep paralysis and night terrors can have many causes, there does seem to be a connection between disorders like PTSD and recurring, distressing sleep disturbances.

In a study conducted on veterans and female sexual assault victims, researchers found that “Sleep disturbances have been described in female rape victims as well as in a heterogeneous sample of women with PTSD. A study of 116 Vietnam veterans receiving treatment in a PTSD specialty clinic found that disturbed sleep (separate from nightmares) was the most frequently reported symptom (in 90% of participants). Recent data from soldiers returning from service in Iraq have shown that sleep disturbances and associated daytime fatigue were the most frequently reported symptoms in those with PTSD.”

Asking for Help

We know that the connection is there, but what do we do about it? PTSD can be a very difficult condition to live with. PTSD and sleep disturbances can also be difficult to handle because many people who experience both may feel as though they are alone in their suffering, and thus they keep their symptoms a secret.

PTSD causes many symptoms that interfere with your day-to-day life. Recurring sleep disturbances over time can affect your sleep schedule, which can exacerbate existing mental health conditions. It is vital that we take care of our mental health, so ask for help from a professional if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Addressing the Issues

While there is no set cure for recurring sleep paralysis and night terrors that works for every person, there are a variety of solutions that, when combined, can alleviate some of the root causes of sleep disturbance episodes.

Some good habits that you can practice are keeping a quiet, comfortable sleeping environment. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and free from distractions. There is some evidence to suggest that avoiding substances like caffeine and alcohol before bed can reduce the likelihood that those with PTSD will have a sleep disturbance episode. If you find that you are still having recurring sleep disturbances that are causing problems in your daily life, you may want to speak to your primary care physician about participating in a sleep study.

Living with PTSD and other mental health disorders is no easy task. These disorders can disrupt our sleep patterns which can make your symptoms worse in your day-to-day life. Reaching out for help is normal and encouraged. PTSD affects many people all over the globe, and getting help to address the root causes of your sleep disturbances and other symptoms is crucial to your overall health and well-being.

PTSD and other mental and emotional disorders can dramatically affect our sleep schedules. Over time, this can cause many different issues, as healthy sleep is connected to our overall mental and physical health. If you find that you are having recurring night terrors and/or sleep paralysis episodes, we at Achieve Concierge are here to help you. At Achieve Concierge, our members have access to the care and knowledge of a professional team of experts and doctors that are here to help you. We work with our members to create a comprehensive plan that is tailored to their specific needs. If you are suffering from PTSD and it is affecting your sleep and daily life, we offer both cognitive behavioral therapy and medication-based treatment plans that can get you back on track. You don’t have to continue to struggle with your mental health and sleep disturbance issues. Contact Achieve Concierge today at +1 (619) 393-5871.

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