Sleep Paralysis, Hallucinations, and Migraines

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It’s an eerie sensation- you’re half-asleep, lying on your back, and suddenly you realize that you can’t move your body or utter a peep. Sleep paralysis may be comorbid with migraines, although the link is not exactly clear-cut.

Sleep Paralysis, Hallucinations, and Migraines- Migravent

About 30-40% of people will experience isolated sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, characterized by an unnerving sensation of being frozen, mute, or sometimes floating in space, aware of your surroundings but unable to rouse.  Sleep paralysis can happen when you’re just waking up in the morning, or at night as you’re drifting off to sleep.

Time stretches to eternity, and seems to lose all meaning, even though the whole terrifying phenomenon lasts for a mere few minutes.

In many ways, the symptoms of sleep paralysis are strikingly similar to migraines with aura.

What is feels like

In the beginning, it can be a frightening, especially if the whole experience is new to you. For a relatively small percentage of people, sleep paralysis may occur with hallucinations or migraine headaches.

Patient stories of sleep paralysis are almost identical, bearing similar symptoms and circumstances. Common descriptions may include:

  • Waking up, but feeling like your brain hasn’t registered that you’re no longer sleeping
  • Having the sensation of something sitting on your chest, suffocating you
  • Not being able to breath upon waking
  • Feeling paralyzed, unable to move even a muscle
  • Wanting to scream, but being unable to, as if still in a dream
  • Being faintly aware of other people around you, and hearing them talking
  • Sensing a “presence” in the room, sometimes as hallucination
  • Hearing a loud ringing sound in your ears that starts out faint, but gets progressively louder
  • Feeling a vibration in your head upon waking, which becomes a morning headache
  • Sometimes, with exploding head syndrome, you wake up with an intense headache
  • After 10 seconds, you suddenly jerk yourself awake
  • You may see bright auras, lights and shapes behind your eyelids just before jolting yourself awake

What causes it?

Isolated sleep paralysis is explained as a temporary paralysis of the body that occurs just after waking up or while falling asleep- always during the twilight period between deep sleep and wakefulness.

Scientifically speaking, it occurs when your brain awakes during the REM sleep cycle, but your body remains “asleep.” You are aware, but unable to move, and may experience wide-awake dreams, hallucinations.

Causes and risk factors for sleep paralysis with hallucinations often include:

  • High stress
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Erratic sleep schedule
  • Environmental fluctuations
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Sleeping pills

Connection to migraines?

There seems to be a high correlation between migraines and sleep paralysis, if for no other reason than the fact that they seem to share certain “triggers.”

  • Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and extreme sensitivity to changes in the weather are all factors that influence migraine frequency and your likeliness of experiencing sleep paralysis.
  • Sleep paralysis, when it occurs often, is a sleep disorder- another condition comorbid with migraines.
  • Also, there’s the exploding head syndrome link, which has been described in a scientific study on sleep paralysis in connection with migraine aura.
  • Antidepressants are a common treatment for migraines and sleep paralysis, as well.

What can you do?

The best advice, as given by your doctor, will be to relax, avoid caffeine in the afternoon, and try to get enough sleep.

If that alone doesn’t work, it helps to remind yourself when it occurs that it’s only temporary, and try to focus on moving even your little finger or nose, and that should trigger a wakeful response.

If necessary, your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants in order to provide relief from insomnia, sleep paralysis, and migraine.

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