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Sleep Paralysis

Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection

Shelley R. Adler

Publication Year: 2011

Sleep Paralysis explores 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been a long-term labor of love, and many people have helped to sustain my efforts. I am grateful to Michael Owen Jones, Carole Browner, and the late Alan Dundes and Donald Ward for their inspiration and support. David Hufford and Allan Cheyne have been tremendously generous, and their groundbreaking sleep paralysis scholarship has been foundational in my own work...

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pp. 1-7

On a winter morning in early January 1981, Xiong Tou Xiong, a twenty-nine year- 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...

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Chapter 1: Consistencies: Cross-cultural Patterns

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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...

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Chapter 2: Continuities: A Transhistorical Bestiary

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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...

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Chapter 3: The Night-mare on the Analyst’s Couch

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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...

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Chapter 4: The Night-mare in the Sleep Lab

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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...

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Chapter 5: The Night-mare, Traditional Hmong Culture, and Sudden Death

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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...

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Chapter 6: The Night-mare and the Nocebo: Beliefs That Harm

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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...

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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...


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pp. 137-148


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pp. 149-164


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pp. 165-168

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813552378
E-ISBN-10: 0813552370
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813548852

Page Count: 182
Illustrations: 7 illustrations.
Publication Year: 2011