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Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 182
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  • Book Info
    Sleep Paralysis
    Book Description:

    Sleep Paralysisexplores a distinctive form of nocturnal fright: the "night-mare," or incubus. In its original meaning a night-mare was the nocturnal visit of an evil being that threatened to press the life out of its victim. Today, it is known as sleep paralysis-a state of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness, when you are unable to move or speak and may experience vivid and often frightening hallucinations. Culture, history, and biology intersect to produce this terrifying sleep phenomenon. Although a relatively common experience across cultures, it is rarely recognized or understood in the contemporary United States.Shelley R. Adler's fifteen years of field and archival research focus on the ways in which night-mare attacks have been experienced and interpreted throughout history and across cultures and how, in a unique example of the effect of nocebo (placebo's evil twin), the combination of meaning and biology may result in sudden nocturnal death.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5237-8
    Subjects: Psychology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    On a winter morning in early January 1981, Xiong Tou Xiong, a twenty-nineyear-old man, was found dead in the bed of his Portland, Oregon home. He had not been ill; his death was sudden and unexpected. Two days later, Yong Leng Thao, a forty-seven-year-old man, died on the way to a Portland hospital after his wife found him lying in his bed, unresponsive (Davidson 1981). He had been up late watching television with an uncle and had gone to bed after midnight, briefly waking his wife. Both were soon asleep. “Then came his labored breathing, so loud that it awakened...

  5. 1 Consistencies: Cross-cultural Patterns
    (pp. 8-36)

    Imagine feeling very tired, going to bed, and quickly falling asleep. Your rest is soon disturbed, though, by some sort of rustling noise. You open your eyes and recognize the normal features of your bedroom in the shadowy darkness, but, when you try to sit up, you realize that you are paralyzed; you are unable to move your arms or legs, or even turn your head. With sudden, sickening dread and overwhelming terror, you sense an evil presence approaching. You struggle and try to scream for help, but you still cannot move or make a sound. The sinister being looms...

  6. 2 Continuities: A Transhistorical Bestiary
    (pp. 37-58)

    The symptoms of the night-mare experience have been studied in relation to sleep paralysis in the last quarter century, but the night-mare spirit itself has persisted for millennia. The entity has stalked human beings throughout history, not merely within a particular society or during a specific time. In fact, the ubiquity of the night-mare led one nineteenth-century scholar to suggest that it was the origin of all mythology (Laistner 1889). Although it is difficult to imagine a researcher making this sweeping assertion today, the night-mare’s prominent role in folk tradition through the ages is clear. The night-mare’s past is worth...

  7. 3 The Night-mare on the Analyst’s Couch
    (pp. 59-73)

    In 1887, Guy de Maupassant published “Le Horla,” a tale of horror that reveals its protagonist’s increasingly anguished thoughts about a nocturnal visitor through a series of diary entries:

    May 25. As the evening comes on, an incomprehensible feeling of disquietude seizes me, just as if night concealed some terrible menace toward me. I dine quickly, and then try to read, but I do not understand the words, and can scarcely distinguish the letters. Then I walk up and down my drawing-room, oppressed by a feeling of confused and irresistible fear, a fear of sleep. . . . Then, I...

  8. 4 The Night-mare in the Sleep Lab
    (pp. 74-93)

    As a consequence of the laboratory sleep research of the mid-twentieth century, the night-mare was finally liberated from its exclusive association with psychiatric illness (Cheyne, Rueffer, and Newby-Clark 1999; Kryger, Roth, and Dement 2000). The first step in the de-pathologizing of the night-mare was the recognition of the ubiquity of sleep paralysis in the general population.¹ Most estimates of the prevalence of sleep paralysis are in the range of approximately 25 to 30 percent, but individual study findings vary considerably, with reports of 6 to 40 percent of healthy adults having experienced at least one episode of sleep paralysis (Arikawa...

  9. 5 The Night-mare, Traditional Hmong Culture, and Sudden Death
    (pp. 94-116)

    Since the first reported case, which occurred in 1977, more than 117 Southeast Asians in the United States have died from the disorder that is now known as SUNDS, the Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome. The sudden deaths have had an unusually high incidence rate among Laotians, particularly Hmong refugees.¹ All but one of the victims have been men; their median age is thirty-three; and the median length of time that they lived in the United States before their death is seventeen months (Parrish 1988). No one had complained of illness or discomfort before going to bed; all were considered...

  10. 6 The Night-mare and the Nocebo: Beliefs That Harm
    (pp. 117-133)

    Throughout the world, in every society, the belief exists that supernatural or magical actions can result in people’s deaths. The Hmong immigrants I spoke with were, in this way, no different from people of other Eastern and Western cultures in thinking that there are nonbiological influences on health and illness. From the start of my research, I had determined to keep an open mind about the range of beliefs regarding both the night-mare and the cause(s) of SUNDS—to avoid any approach that prematurely privileged either culture or biology. So, after speaking with many Hmong men and women who shared...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 134-136)

    Sixty years ago, only a small number of scientists and health-care practitioners were aware of sleep paralysis, although millions of Americans were experiencing the phenomenon. Even when sleep researchers began to learn about the neurophysiology of sleep paralysis, the impact of the personal experience remained obscure. Today, despite the high prevalence of (and growing interest in) sleep paralysis in the United States, the experience is only rarely recounted. This is partly due to the fact that public awareness of the night-mare is a relatively recent development, but it is also evidence of the fact that the long-standing stigma associated with...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 137-148)
    (pp. 149-164)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 165-168)
    (pp. 169-169)