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Sleep Disorders

Numbness of entire body during sleep

05/29/2008

Question:

This is only the second time this has happened, but the best way to describe it would be what just happened last night. I was only asleep for about 5 minutes (I want to say around 4 AM) when in my dream I went numb, woke myself up, and still had my entire body feel numb. Within about 20 seconds I could move, although my body did tingle a bit. I tried to go back to sleep right after, succeeded, but woke myself up with the numbing, and this time, with 2 convulsions and a horrible roaring in my ears. I`m very certain I did convulse. I just think I`m convincing myself otherwise the more I am awake, but trying to go to sleep right after, the roaring kept getting louder the closer I got to falling asleep. So now I`m here, giving up sleeping for now, more out of fear than anything, and wondering besides seeing a doctor, if it might be anything serious? And for age reference, I am 20 years old.

Answer:

I am glad you have found our web site and asked the question. You describe a fairly frightful event. Your report is very helpful and represents an undesirable event that occur during sleep or during transition between wakefulness and sleep that is generally called "Parasomnia".

You seem to have experienced a combination of parasomnias, namely two

Sleep Paralysis is a common finding in the general population. Ten percent of healthy adults have experienced one or more attacks. It is usually described as waking up from sleep but being completely paralyzed and unable to move other than the eyes and the breathing muscles. This lasts a few seconds to a few minutes (although it may feel like a longer duration), and is terminated suddenly, either by an external stimulus (such as an alarm clock or another person touching you) or spontaneously.

Sleep-related hallucinations are a prominent, vivid, dream-like mentation that occur at sleep onset (called Hypnagogic), or while waking up (called Hypnopompic). These phenomena are also common (10-20% of the population) and may be associated with sleep paralysis. These hallucinations are visual most of the time. The "roaring" that you heard and the tingling/numbness that you felt are the auditory and tactile equivalents to the visual imagery that most people experience. Body jerks are also common during sleep/wake transition and do not represent seizures.

The most common precipitating factor for parasomnias is sleep deprivation or sleep restriction, which you may have since you mention going to bed at 4 o'clock in the morning. Also, parasomnias may be caused by underlying sleep or neurological disorders. For example, sleep apnea, which causes breathing disturbance during sleep, can precipitate and worsen parasomnias. Nocturnal partial seizures are seizures that occur only during sleep and may mimic certain parasomnias. Drugs, substances, and medical conditions may precipitate or may exacerbate many of these disorders of sleep.

Giving up on sleep is the last this I want you to do. So, fear not sleep, because your best bet against causing this type of parasomnia is to get an adequate amount of sleep, and to have a regular sleep/wake schedule. If these problems persist despite getting 7-8 hours of sleep per day, then further history, examination and possibly sleep investigations may be needed. This type of evaluation often starts with your primary care physician, but may require the help of a specialist in sleep disorders.

Although disturbing, many people with parasomnias learn how to adapt to their disorder, and don't need any particular treatment. Rarely, medications that suppress dream sleep are used.

If you'd like additional information regarding sleep and sleep disorders, you can obtain it on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. This website also contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so you can locate one near you if need it. Good luck, and sleep well.

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Response by:

Ziad  Shaman, MD Ziad Shaman, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University