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Sun, Oct. 20

Sleep paralysis is scary, but not dangerous

Dear Dr. Rosenberg:

Recently, I had a very frightening thing happen to me. Upon awakening, I could not move. I was awake, but it was as if my body was frozen. It lasted for a few minutes and then went away. Any ideas what is going on and could this happen again?

A: What you experienced is called sleep paralysis. Basically, as you awoke your body was still in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During REM sleep we are unable to move. This is protective, so that we do not act out our dreams. It can be brought on by lack of sleep or stress. Most people experience it at least once in their lives. It is not dangerous, just frightening - so don't worry about it.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg:

My doctor wants me to take Mirapex for restless leg syndrome. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and have heard this is not a good medication for folks like me. I read it can cause shopping and gambling compulsive behaviors. Any truth to this?

A: Yes - although it's uncommon, there are reports of compulsive gambling, eating, and hyper-sexuality. Drugs such as Mirapex stimulate pathways in the brain that govern reward behavior including pleasure and addiction. There are many other medications available to treat restless leg syndrome that do not share these properties. I recommend you discuss this with your physician.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg:

My sister is overweight and has polycystic ovary disease. She says that she feels sleepy while driving. I know she is stressed and needs more sleep. I have read that people with her condition have an increased incidence of sleep apnea. Is that true?

A: You are correct. Polycystic ovary disease affects between 6.5 to 8 percent of all women. The incidence of sleep apnea with this disease is in excess of 50 percent. A sleep study would be the proper diagnostic tool in your sister's situation. I strongly urge your sister to discuss this with her physician. Also, encourage her to refrain from driving until this is settled.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg:

My husband has been taken to the emergency room two times in the last couple of months. Each time he awoke with his heart beating irregularly. On both occasions he had an abnormal heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. He reverted to normal cardiac rhythm after receiving an IV medication. Our doctor is putting him on medication to prevent this from happening again. I am confused, because it was mentioned this may have something to do with my husband's sleep. Please help me understand.

A: I would have a very high suspicion that your husband might have a sleep disorder precipitating the arrhythmia. In many studies, atrial fibrillation that occurred out of sleep was associated with sleep apnea. The low oxygen and stretching of the atria that occurs with the apnea is believed to be a contributing cause. I would suggest you discuss this possibility with your physician. A sleep study might prove beneficial.

Dr. Robert Rosenberg, board-certified sleep medicine specialist, will answer readers' questions by incorporating them in future columns. Contact him at or via mail at the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, 3259 N. Windsong Dr., Prescott Valley, AZ 86314.

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