No Sleep? Funky Things Can Happen

You haven’t slept for what feels like an eternity, coffee cannot keep you awake anymore even after drinking the strongest espresso you can brew – you are sleep deprived.

A while ago you finally manage to fall asleep and all is peaceful; the next moment you are awake again and are unable to move. Hallucinations occur and it seems you are going nuts – funky things are happening.

“A 2011 review of studies published in Sleep Medicine Review revealed that 7.6 percent of the general population experiences sleep paralysis at least once in their lifetime. It’s even more common in students — a population not surprisingly sleep deprived — at 28.3 percent. The percentage is even higher in people with psychiatric disorders, at 31.9 percent, and particularly high in those with panic disorder: 34.6 percent.” – Liz Zabel, The Gazette.

Funky things happen because with sleep deprivation, our bodies do not enter the REM (rapid eye movement) state, the most restorative sleep cycle, vital for a good rest. And if a REM cycle is interrupted – you waking up suddenly for example – it can result in sleep paralysis. What happens is while the brain is awake and active, the body is still ‘asleep’, and you cannot therefore move. The brain then can start producing visual, auditory and in some cases physical hallucinations.

Dr. Mark Eric Dyken, a neurologist at University of Iowa’s Sleep Disorders Clinic, explains that to enter REM sleep it takes 60 to 90 minutes, if you are sleep deprived however, the body “nose dives” into it. The paralysis is “a natural process of REM that keeps you from acting out your dreams”.

According to Dr. Dyken, the disorder is linked to narcolepsy, yet one can experience it at least once in life, in particular if one is sleep deprived. This disorder is not widely known, due to the stigma associated with its symptoms.

Dr. Andrew Peterson, medical director at the Eastern Iowa Sleep Center, advises trying to get better sleep, reserving enough time for sleep – 8 hours if you are 25 and older – and keeping a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. There are antidepressants and other drugs that can help, none without side effects.

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