Neurology Forum
This expert forum is not accepting new questions. Please post your question in one of our medical support communities.
Avatar universal

Unable to wake up

My mother has these episodes where she states that she is asleep and someone comes in to talk to her, however she is unable to wake up.  She can hear them and she knows everything that is going on around her but she is unable to talk or move.  Why is this?  She hasn't been to a doctor yet because she has so many other health problems that she is tired of doctors and they haven't been able to help her.  She has arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes and mitro-valve prolapse.  She is unable to take a lot of medications which has made her loose her faith in doctors because she is in constant pain everyday and the ones that she has been to have pretty much given up on helping her.  Can you explain why she has been having these episodes?  Thank you very much for your time!
8 Responses
Avatar universal
Maybe her sleep isn't as deep or satisfying as she thinks and she is still in a sleep state  Does your Mother take sleepmeds or an antidepressant? How old is she?
Avatar universal
She does not take sleepmeds or an antidepressant.  She does take medications for her diabetes and arthritis and she also takes pain medication.  She is 60 years old.
Avatar universal
What you describe sounds like what used to happen to me during my college years.  It was like my mind would wake up but my body wouldn't and I couldn't move.  It was terrifying and once I could wake myself up I would be scared to go back to sleep.  I believe this is called sleep paralysis, and I don't think it is a serious disorder, but it is very disturbing when it happens to you.  It usually happened to me when I was overtired and sleeping on the couch or in a chair, but it would also happen to me when I was sleeping normally.  One time I was sleeping on my parent's couch and it happened and I tried to talk to tell them to come shake me to wake me up, but all I could get out was a tiny mumble and I actually heard them laugh and say I was talking in my sleep!  It sounds crazy but I'm not making it up.

When you say someone comes in to talk to her, is there someone actually there or is this a hallucination of some sort?  I wasn't clear on that, and what I experienced was that I could hear people talking that were really there talking, but I never had hallucinations.  Hope you can get some help for your mother, sounds like she's really had a rough time.
Avatar universal
No, she is not hallucinating.  It is usually my step-dad that comes in to talk to her.  That is how she explains it too, she can hear people and what they are saying to her but she can't wake up to talk back or even move.  It scares her really bad.  She does have a lot of problems and I was just hoping that this wasn't another one added on to her already growing list.  Thank you very much for your comment.
Avatar universal
I've had this happen to me twice now within a few months apart.  The first time it happened, I could not move at all, I kept wanting to reach over for the phone to call my husband I was so scared.  I felt as though I was trying to push myself across the bed.  I kept hearing noises like little voices saying she's waking us, she's waking up.  I was terrified.  From what I can remember I either went back to sleep or was finally able to move.  It was almost like I woke up to thinking it was a dream but I know it wasn't.  The strange thing also is when I checked the clock I wouldn't have been asleep more the 15 - 20 minutes.  
This week it happened again for the 2nd time.  It was windy outside and my windows were open.  I could hear acorns falling on our shed roof and banging noises but I could not move and I don't know if my eyes were open all the way, because everything was white and fuzzy.  Its a terrifying experience, I wish I knew why its happening to me now all of a sudden.  I'm 32 and do not recall this from before.

Avatar universal
This sounds like "sleep paralysis," and it is indeed terrifying. I finally found out what to do when I'm having an episode of it. The solution is to move your eyes rapidly back and forth. You will find that even when the rest of you is paralyzed, you can still move your eyes, and usually that motion will break the paralysis. Another thing to try is moving your tongue. Hope this helps. I experience sleep paralysis whenever I am overtired, but know I should be awake. It's as if the mind wakes up, but the body can't.
Avatar universal
Okay, I will agree to the rest and say this is like sleep paralysis. I have had this problem ever since I was little and my parents thought it was me being stubborn not to wake. I have always got it before and after sleep. It just makes life interesting. Stellatum's suggestion is true that it will help. Though because I've had it since I was young, I don't get stressed about it. Yes it is very odd, but it's easy to live with. Here's the info I got:

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis consists of a period of inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset (called hypnogogic or predormital form) or upon awakening (called hypnopompic or postdormtal form).

Sleep paralysis may also be referred to as isolated sleep paralysis, familial sleep paralysis, hynogogic or hypnopompic paralysis, predormital or postdormital paralysis

What are the symptoms?

    * A complaint of inability to move the trunk or limbs at sleep onset or upon awakening
    * Presence of brief episodes of partial or complete skeletal muscle paralysis
    * Episodes can be associated with hypnagogic hallucinations or dream-like mentation (act or use of the brain)

Polysomnography (a sleep recording) shows at least one of the following:

    * suppression of skeletal muscle tone
    * a sleep onset REM period
    * dissociated REM sleep

Is it harmful?

Sleep paralysis is most often associated with narcolepsy, a neurological condition in which the person has uncontrollable naps. However, there are many people who experience sleep paralysis without having signs of narcolepsy. Sometimes it runs in families. There is no known explanation why some people experience this paralysis. It is not harmful, although most people report feeling very afraid because they do not know what is happening, and within minutes they gradually or abruptly are able to move again; the episode is often terminated by a sound or a touch on the body.

In some cases, when hypnogogic hallucinations are present, people feel that someone is in the room with them, some experience the feeling that someone or something is sitting on their chest and they feel impending death and suffocation. That has been called the “Hag Phenomena” and has been happening to people over the centuries. These things cause people much anxiety and terror, but there is no physical harm.

What else can you tell me about sleep paralysis?

    * Some people with disrupted sleep schedules or circadian rhythm disturbances experience sleep paralysis
    * A study found that 35% of subjects with isolated sleep paralysis also reported a history of wake panic attacks unrelated to the experience of paralysis
    * Sixteen percent of these persons with isolated sleep paralysis met the criteria for panic disorder

How can I stop the sleep paralysis?

In severe cases, where episodes take place at least once a week for 6 months, medication may be used.

You may be able to minimize the episodes by following good sleep hygiene:

    * getting enough sleep
    * reduce stress
    * exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime)
    * keep a regular sleep schedule
Avatar universal
A related discussion, Unable to wake up at all was started.
Popular Resources
Find out how beta-blocker eye drops show promising results for acute migraine relief.
In this special Missouri Medicine report, doctors examine advances in diagnosis and treatment of this devastating and costly neurodegenerative disease.
Here are 12 simple – and fun! – ways to boost your brainpower.
Discover some of the causes of dizziness and how to treat it.
Discover the common causes of headaches and how to treat headache pain.
Two of the largest studies on Alzheimer’s have yielded new clues about the disease