Thanks for writing in and including so much background. Believe me, you are not the only one who is curious, and disturbed, by these strange occasions of paralysis during sleep.
The symptoms you describe are consistent with what we know about a sleep disorder called “narcolepsy.” Narcolepsy is characterized primarily as a disorder of excessive daytime sleepiness. This means that no matter how much a person with narcolepsy sleeps, he or she can still feel tired during the day, and will be able to nap quickly if given the opportunity.
Narcolepsy is a curious sleep disorder; it actually is a malfunction of the REM sleep “switching” mechanism. This means that your body begins dreaming almost immediately upon falling asleep, instead of waiting for a period of non-dreaming sleep to occur. This early-onset of REM explains your symptoms of being unable to move (our bodies are paralyzed during REM sleep, so we don’t act out our dreams) and also the vivid dreams that you are able to watch—your out of body experiences.
Not everyone who has sleep paralysis has narcolepsy. In fact, most people have felt the paralysis of REM sleep at one time or another (usually when they are sleep deprived). Three items you include in your report, however, are very familiar to narcolepsy. Narcolepsy usually develops in your teenage years (your symptoms began at 16), it is associated with excessive and vivid dreaming, and it also causes you to be tired during the day.
Narcolepsy is estimated to affect about one in every thousand people. The good news about narcolepsy is that it is very effectively treated with medication. The bad news is that, because it is a relatively rare condition, it often goes untreated or is misdiagnosed for depression.
I strongly encourage you to make an appointment with a doctor who is a specialist in sleep disorders medicine. (A generalist might misdiagnose your condition; a sleep specialist never would.) A sleep doctor will “take your history” (ask you lots of questions), and most likely will ask you to sleep overnight in a sleep lab. You may also take a blood test. If it turns out you do have narcolepsy, you’ll be allowed to try various medications—to see which one works best for you. And then—before you know it—those years of being tired will be a thing of your past!
Make your appointment today, and please write back to let us know your success! All you other readers, spread the word. Daytime sleepiness, excessive dreaming, and frequent “bouts” of paralysis. They all add up to narcolepsy—a very treatable condition!
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