“Nightmare Death Syndrome”

Though this item sounds like the premise to a cheesy horror movie (in fact, the premise of a very enduring horror movie franchise) there is actually a medically recognized condition where normally healthy people fall asleep and never wake up.

Current explanation as to why? Nightmares.

These cases occurred in modern times–the first in 1977– in American cities– Sacramento, Chicago… and claimed more than 100 lives. Named apparently “Nightmare Death Syndrome” or “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome” (SUNDS) there is one other key piece of information about this phenomenon, namely that it effects a very precise demographic: immigrants primarily male from south east Asia.

Read in its full political and historical context, the whole story of these Hmong immigrants is perhaps more a tragedy than horror story.

Hmong Immigrant Situation

But what would cause them to die asleep in such numbers? Some have suggested the stress of acculturation compounded with guilt about leaving relatives behind. Another researcher examined the traditional culture of the Hmong and discovered a notion “dab tsog” or a nightmare that is not just a bad dream but an actual visitation. These visitations can be so traumatic, it is hypothesized, that dreamers die of shock.

Hmong Traditions

Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome

I will reserve commentary on the very fruitful topic of such “visitation nightmares” to another time but I’ll close with the thought that if our dreams are stalked by malevolent entities who threaten our lives, why are there not entities equally powerful who protect us? How can we populate our dream life with them? That might be the ultimate task in coping with nightmares.

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