Sleep Paralysis: is it just a Dream or a Disorder - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Sleep Paralysis: is it just a Dream or a Disorder

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Sean Albertson has struggled with sleep for years, now he's hoping to get some answers Sean Albertson has struggled with sleep for years, now he's hoping to get some answers

This is Sean Albertson; you may not know him but you see his work every day. Sean directs our newscasts and we have worked together for the past 5 years.

He has a problem that affects fewer than one out of every 10 people in America. It's called sleep paralysis. It is seemingly rare, but for Sean it is something he's had to live with for as long as he can remember.

"It wasn't until recently that I found out what sleep paralysis was, but as I started backtracking in terms of all these moments that I recall it's by definition sort of a transition that your body is going through from sleep mode to awake mode." Said Albertson.

Sean says it started happening in high school. During the night, he'd seemingly wake up, only he was unable to move.

"Those experiences I was having when I thought I was sleeping, where you just have that sense of like you have absolutely no control over your body or over what you're assuming are your last moments, because that's what it feels like." Said Albertson.

Sean says the sense of panic is unlike any he's experienced while he was "truly" awake. These episodes of paralysis have made it difficult for Sean to get a good night's rest

"Even if I'm waking up at 10 o'clock in the morning I still feel like oh man I don't know what's wrong with me." Said Albertson.

Sean is not alone. A quick search on and you'll find countless others who suffer the same affliction.

"I was completely frozen and my eyes were like open but I felt unbelievable fear and terror like I had never felt before." Said one woman. 

"If there was a feeling on earth that I imagine is comparable to the feeling of drowning, it's 100% sleep paralysis!" Said another man.

But is this condition normal? Dr. Matthew Stanley is a psychiatrist at Avera Behavioral Health. He tells me sleep paralysis itself, is a symptom of some other underlying sleep disorder and doesn't mean you're crazy, just tired.

"If you deprive sleep long enough you actually begin to get hallucinatory experiences different than most of what we talk about in schizophrenia, we talk more about the auditory (voices in their heads), you can get those but probably visual are more common initially with sleep deprivation" Said Dr. Stanley.

When you sleep your body is supposed to go through 5 different cycles. During the REM or Rapid Eye Movement cycle, your muscles completely relax or shut down so they can rejuvenate. However, with sleep paralysis your mind wakes up but the rest of your body is still asleep. Because we also dream during REM sleep our dreams and our reality have the potential to collide. Which can confuse and haunt the dreamer.

"You're beginning to be aware of your surroundings but your body will not respond and you can still be coming out of REM sleep so the experiences you have at that point are very real, the perceptions are very intense and can be very real, they can be frightening. And sometimes probably misinterpreted by patients." Said Dr. Stanley.

Many claim to see shadow people who attack during their sleep paralysis, much like the ones seen in the movie "Ghost." This darker side of sleep paralysis can also be found throughout history in paintings and old folk tales. In fact many studies link paranormal experiences, like people claiming to have been abducted by aliens, to that person simply having an episode of sleep paralysis.

"It's the sense of alarm and kind of just some of those really bad nightmares that you just don't want to have." Said Albertson.

To try and understand what is triggering his sleep paralysis, Sean had a sleep study done to test for both sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Two conditions that could explain his inability to get healthy sleep. If they're able to pinpoint a cause, there are a variety of treatment options. But Sean's example should serve as a reminder to just how important sleep is; for the mind as well as the body.

"Of the things that you can do for yourself, a good nights sleep to maintain mood and intellect and acuity is probably the most important physiological function." Said Dr. Stanley.

For now Sean will continue to rely on caffeine, but he's hoping that after years of paralysis he could finally get a good night's rest.

"I guess based on whatever results they find if it's apnea with a very very rare case of sleep paralysis or if it's something else entirely then you know at least I'll know that much." Said Albertson.

Sean is still waiting on the results of his sleep studies, but hopeful doctors will know more soon.

If you suffer from symptoms of sleep paralysis, it's nothing to be ashamed about. Don't keep it a secret, see your doctor, there is help and you can get a get good night's rest.


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