Saturday, August 08, 2009

My uncle himself told me about how he once awoke to a crushing sensation on his chest, and it was only by reciting prayers that he managed to drive the evil spirit away.

I'd heard variations of the same story from different people of different religions, about this evil weight that would sometimes seem almost suffocating, but always terrifying.

Turns out, they'd all been experiencing "a piece of REM sleep."

Freaky Sleep Paralysis: Being Awake in Your Nightmares

By Alexis Madrigal [August 7, 2009]

In sleep paralysis, two of the key REM sleep components are present, but you’re not unconscious.

Narcolepsy, which can be linked with sleep paralysis, has a similar pathology. For narcoleptics, some of the elements of rapid eye movement can “come out of nowhere,” he McCarty said.

Sleep paralysis was first identified within the scientific community by psychologist Weir Mitchell in 1876. He laid down this syntactically old-school, but accurate description of how it works. “The subject awakes to consciousness of his environment but is incapable of moving a muscle; lying to all appearance still asleep. He is really engaged in a struggle for movement fraught with acute mental distress; could he but manage to stir, the spell would vanish instantly.”

But the condition lived in folklore long before anyone tried to subject it to even semi-rigorous study. The various responses have fascinated some researchers and they were cataloged in the 2007 book, Tall Tales About the Mind and Brain. In Japan, the problem was termed kanashibar. In Newfoundland, people called it “the old hag.” In China, “ghost oppression” was the preferred nomenclature.

A study released earlier this year found that more than 90 percent of Mexican adolescents know the phrase “a dead body climbed on top of me” to describe the disorder. More than 25 percent of them had experienced it themselves.

Give it a couple more years, we'll soon figure out the scientific rational for the orang minyak.