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The Nocebo Effect
September 20, 2011 2:34 AM   Subscribe


 
I once came across a bit about Australian Aborigines having such powerful magic - where the 'cursed' one is pointed at with a bone or stick, and then they died - of no discernible medical causes. Simply the power of the belief that he/she had been cursed by the community (as punishment) was sufficient.
posted by infini at 2:47 AM on September 20, 2011


Now I'm convinced I'm going to succumb to the nocebo effect. Thanks, Dr. Barsky.
posted by Goofyy at 2:50 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


In a sense, the Hmong were killed by their beliefs in the spirit world, even if the mechanism of their deaths was likely an obscure genetic cardiac arrhythmia that is prevalent in southeast Asia.

Literally scared to death.

And like every "placebo" effect there is a reasonable scientific explanation with no supernatural forces involved.
posted by three blind mice at 3:02 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting these. I was just talking to someone about the nocebo effect this morning (we're both med students) and she hadn't heard of it before. :)
posted by Mokusatsu at 3:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is important research, because it opens up a horizon on a still largely unknown and under-publicized effect that can be reversed through education - by helping a potential victim change one's belief about outcomes. Another case where an increase in knowledge, accompanied by a concomitant loss of superstitious and dangerous beliefs, can help save lives and free up human potential.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:05 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


See also -- The Mad Gasser of Mattoon!
posted by dancestoblue at 3:09 AM on September 20, 2011


Brugada Syndrome.
posted by Segundus at 3:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also -- The Great Singapore Penis Panic! (subtitle is cool, but not near *as* cool: and the Future of American Mass Hysteria)

via linked through a thread posted earlier today by Cobalt
posted by dancestoblue at 3:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(um, thread posted yesterday by Cobalt)
posted by dancestoblue at 3:21 AM on September 20, 2011


Oh well ...
posted by a non e mouse at 3:38 AM on September 20, 2011


I wonder if the prevalent cardiac arrhythmia was what led to the belief that they could be killed by night-terrors.
posted by bleep at 3:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I mean culturally and historically.
posted by bleep at 3:57 AM on September 20, 2011


infini: see Kurdaitcha Man
posted by pompomtom at 3:57 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


pompomtom: yes, exactly.
posted by infini at 4:06 AM on September 20, 2011


There was a sickness for a long time among virgins between about 1500 and 1900 A.D. It was called chlorosis or greensickness or white fever. Sometimes virgins died of the disease itself or sometimes they died by their own hand ("desiring death as a lover"). And now it's gone. Around the early 1900's virgins stopped having the issue. Historians and historical epidemiologists cannot figure out what the disease was, if anything. Perhaps a nocebo?

(pp 65-70 from _Virgin: The Untouched History_, Blank, Hanne, 2007)
posted by kalessin at 4:23 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I experienced sleep paralysis twice in college. I can vouch for the sheer terror that attends the experience. I saw -- no, felt -- an evil presence to my left."

Would have reached for their homeopathic remedies, were they not paralysed.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:24 AM on September 20, 2011


What are you trying to say there, GallonOfAlan? If you're suggesting people experiencing sleep paralysis and feeling an evil presence are insufficiently gullible or skeptical then you're flat wrong. If not, can you explain what you do mean?
posted by edd at 4:29 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Would have reached for their homeopathic remedies, were they not paralysed.

What is the homeopathic cure for being scared? A horror movie diluted over and over until nothing scary remains?

So, basically, Saw 6?
posted by unigolyn at 4:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


@edd

What I am trying clumsily to say is that IMO homeopathy is quackery writ large.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:39 AM on September 20, 2011


"I experienced sleep paralysis twice in college. I can vouch for the sheer terror that attends the experience. I saw -- no, felt -- an evil presence to my left."

Would have reached for their homeopathic remedies, were they not paralysed.


Well, that's a bullshit, belittling statement if I ever read one.

I've had two of these "pressing spirit" attacks in my lifetime. They're terrifying. I woke up, eyes fully open, completely unable to move any other part of my body, and there was the feeling that there was this THING sitting on the headboard with its finger on my forehead, pushing downward, keeping me locked in place by its evil whims. That was the first time. The second time, again, awake, eyes open, with this shrouded black figure standing at the foot of my bed paralyzing me with its gaze.

I don't hold any beliefs in oogie boogie spirits and whatnot (except for SlenderMan), and I've seen enough on the subject to know what was actually going on. But that doesn't discount the truly awfulness of what I felt I was going through at the time. The feeling of utter helplessness, the sense that I was struggling even to breathe, and the truly terrifying notion that SOMETHING WAS DOING THIS TO ME and that I could see whatever it was...

Seriously. It's obvious you've never had this happen to you, but it's not an uncommon occurrence across the world (much more common than you think), and your "reach for the homeopathic remedies" thing was just a shitty way to let everyone know you can't relate.
posted by hippybear at 4:46 AM on September 20, 2011 [39 favorites]


hippybear says what I was tempted to say straight off. These things happen to me on a near monthly basis, and I'm about as skeptical as you get, especially of homeopathy.
posted by edd at 4:52 AM on September 20, 2011


Okay people, now you know. The next time you experience sleep paralysis just keep in mind that you might be KILLED by the the nocibo effect. Especially now that you know you can be killed by the nocibo effect during sleep paralysis!
posted by delmoi at 4:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm another who's experienced sleep paralysis on a semiregular basis, and I'm not yet awake enough to have any real thoughts except a bafflement at homeopathy's presence in this conversation and a happy feeling that Henri Fuseli is still the prime diplomat from the land of Sleeparalysis and a sort of sad feeling that someone thought The Nightmare needed a "scary filter" or something. Look at those eyes; they're scary enough.
posted by byanyothername at 5:06 AM on September 20, 2011


I wonder if the prevalent cardiac arrhythmia was what led to the belief that they could be killed by night-terrors.

The interesting thing about cardiac arrythmia and other cardioneurological disorders is that they are at the very intersection of mind and body. They can definitely be influenced and aggravated by one's state of mind, and at the same time, knowing about them does not exactly contribute to the patients' peace of mind.
posted by Skeptic at 5:20 AM on September 20, 2011


I had something that was probably sleep paralysis when I was maybe 8 or 10. I remember being less scared than surprised by it.

I also had a seizure on a bus a while back that left me hospitalized; there was a brief period when I woke up, lucid and remarkably detached, to find that I could only move my eyes. I then became aware of a "second partition" of my mind that was neither lucid nor detached (nor aware of the "first partition") but in control of my limbs. I am reasonably certain that this "other self" tore out my breathing tube not long after, but I had passed out by then.

Basically, the brain is capable of really odd things; I wouldn't dismiss the poorly-understood as "superstition." Nor would I elevate it to a mystical experience.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:25 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, there appears to be a connection between cardiac arrythmia and sleep apnea.
posted by Skeptic at 5:26 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


More reasons to be glad to be an insomniac.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:37 AM on September 20, 2011


There was a sickness for a long time among virgins between about 1500 and 1900 A.D. It was called chlorosis or greensickness or white fever. Sometimes virgins died of the disease itself or sometimes they died by their own hand ("desiring death as a lover"). And now it's gone. Around the early 1900's virgins stopped having the issue. Historians and historical epidemiologists cannot figure out what the disease was, if anything. Perhaps a nocebo?

According to Wikipedia, actually it is known what the condition is/was: hypochromic anemia, and yes it does still exist (and no, it is not limited to virgins).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:38 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, I never researched this stuff, although totally experiencing it twice or fourth a year. Well, one would rather not. It's in fact fucking creepy.

It usually goes like this with me:

Lucid dreaming (funny)->False awakening (annoying as hell)->Sleep paralysis (creepy to terrifying)->Out of body experiences (wtf?)->actually awakenig (phew).
posted by ZeroAmbition at 5:51 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've experienced sleep paralysis once in college. It's very terrifying. I couldn't move but could somehow sense someone evil standing to my left trying to suffocate me with a pillow. It lasted maybe 5 seconds before I could sit up in bed. Probably the scariest thing I've ever experienced.

My brother also experienced sleep paralysis once. However, to him and my sister-in-law, it was my sister-in-law's dead grandfather warning my brother to be nice because my brother had had a fight with my sister-in-law and slammed a door, knocking a picture of the dead grandfather off the wall. I told them that it was sleep paralysis and showed them relevant articles. I've heard them tell the story again since, and they still say it was the dead grandfather.
posted by Bort at 6:10 AM on September 20, 2011


According to Wikipedia, actually it is known what the condition is/was: hypochromic anemia, and yes it does still exist (and no, it is not limited to virgins).

Looking into my source more carefully, looks like the author relied on the historical/psychological/cultural aspects of the disease as written about by Helen King (cited in the Wikipedia article, btw):

Disease of Virgins; Green Sickness, Chlorosis and the Problems of Puberty (Google Books) by Helen King

Haven't read King's book, but Blank asserts that there's more to the story than the 1936 finding by Arthur J. Patek and Clark W. Heath of Harvard Medical School that chlorosis is identical to hypochromic anemia.

(Being Blank's partner, I know she referred to that book pretty heavily while writing the 5 pages in Virgin. For more questions about scholarship and interpretation, though, I'd have to ask her.)
posted by kalessin at 6:16 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


[Freddy Kruger Joke]
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2011


So if the nocebo effect can be mitigated by education, what does that mean for the regular old placebo effect? I'd be interested in seeing some studies comparing drug efficacy rates to education levels. It'd be pretty crazy if there was a correlation there.

Also, I had a sleep paralysis experience once. There was a goddamn 7 foot tall Whitley Strieber style alien in the room just watching me and I couldn't move at all. Eventually, through sheer willpower I was able to move my arm to take a swing at the fucker, but my arm just moved soooo slow, like it weighed 200 pounds. Once my slow mo swat didn't connect with anything I almost instantly realized what was really happening and woke the fuck up. Fortunately, I had read up enough on sleep paralysis (because that shit be interesting) to know that that is what I just experienced so I wasn't too terrified afterwards. Still lost some sleep for the next night or two though.
I don't hold any beliefs in oogie boogie spirits and whatnot (except for SlenderMan)
You know, Slender Man loses all of his power over you if you start calling him the Splenda Man.
posted by cirrostratus at 7:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sleep paralysis, previously and previouslier.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2011


Oh what a bunch of bunk. I read through the article and the first thing that sprung to mind is the old Japanese myth that you can't sleep all night under a fan in the summer, it will kill you. When I first stayed in Japan during the summer, I had a fan that had a timer that would shut off after 30 minutes. I asked why, I thought this was a huge pain in the butt since it would shut off just as I was falling asleep and then I'd swelter all night and get hardly any sleep. I was told the timer was for my own safety, in case I fell asleep with it running and it might blow away my soul or some such rubbish superstition. I said that was ridiculous but everyone insisted they knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone who had died from leaving the fan on all night. I didn't want to argue so I just jammed a pencil in the timer and slept under the fan all night.

I also wonder about this "sleep paralysis" thing. I've had that a couple of times. I was like "Hmm, I'm awake but I can't move. I guess I'm still asleep. Oh well, go back to sleep." I certainly didn't find it terrifying.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


charlie don't surf: It's not always terrifying, and there isn't always a feeling of something else being there with you. Sometimes though it is, and there is, and the thing there is distinctly evil - you know in perhaps the same way your brain fills in the background details or context to a dream you might be having that whatever it is has distinctly bad intentions (and that was definitely in addition to the rather large dagger it appeared to be holding).
I was rather lucky that the first time I recall it happening to me the presence intersected the ceiling in a physically impossible manner, so it was clear in seconds what I was experiencing wasn't real, but the feeling before then was distinctly scary.
The worst experiences I've had since have been more tremendously frustrating or panicked, but not really involved the same kind of fear, and most frequently I have experiences more like yours - I struggle to get out of them but otherwise don't find them a particular concern.
posted by edd at 8:21 AM on September 20, 2011


I don't hold any beliefs in oogie boogie spirits and whatnot (except for SlenderMan)

STOP FUCKING SAYING HIS NAME
posted by shakespeherian at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Splendorman!
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 AM on September 20, 2011


wikipedia on Aboriginal bone pointing
posted by bhnyc at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2011


Wow. If the descriptions here didn't sound so awful, I'd almost be jealous that I've never experienced sleep paralysis.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:32 AM on September 20, 2011


I've had the hallucinations sometimes associated with sleep paralysis (the hypnogogia article on wiki covers it), yet have been able to move. It was scary enough, I can't imagine how much worse it would have been to be immobile.

First time I was in my girlfriend of the time's bed, in her bedsit. I woke with a bit of a start at maybe 3am. There was a woman at the end of the bed. My first thought was how the hell did she get in? I knew my girlfriend was really careful about locking the door. Then of course it was 'Who the fuck is that?'

I sat up and probably asked the question out loud, but then I realised I could kind of see through her a bit. Oh crap.

I shut my eyes tight and reopened them. Still there. I tried a couple of times, saying 'She's not really there', but it didn't work. By this time my girlfriend was awake and understandably confused and a little freaked out. I asked how - not very coherently - if she could see the woman, which of course she couldn't.

I even crawled to the end of the bed and, reasoning that as she wasn't really there if I tried to touch her the illusion would be broken. Fuck no. My hand went straight through her and she sprang back a little, and got super scary horror film downlit shadows on her face (this was so perfect it was one of the things I'd point to as evidence it really was all in my head).

In the end I got my girlfriend to turn the light on, and that did the trick.

So yeah, add in paralysis and a crushing weight on your chest and I can understand why you might shit a brick or burst an important blood vessel...
posted by spectrevsrector at 9:59 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Her, not how. Edit window pls?
posted by spectrevsrector at 10:01 AM on September 20, 2011


I get sleep paralysis several times a year. It only happens when I am overtired. Usually it's just irritating - after 20-30 seconds I can "will" myself to move an arm and I wake up. On a few occasions I've just gone with it and my conscious bits drift off to sleep within a few minutes. Only once did I feel a sense of terror, but thankfully there was no sense of a presence or external evil.

I'll also add that surprise over placebo/nocebo effect (the idea that our conscious bits can impact bodily outcomes) arises from the fact that we're partly bound to the vestigial mind/body problem in this culture.
posted by MillMan at 10:04 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Placebo and nocebo aren't Blue Moon experiences that affect you once or twice a year; expectancy affects our perceptions of everything, to some small degree, all the time.

Expect that beer to relax you?

Congrats-- now it will, more so than if you had expected otherwise.

Expect that pill to heal you?

Ditto.

It's really too bad that current medical practice doesn't incorporate more Witch Doctor ("You must tap the pill with your index finger three times and only three times before taking it-- it's very important") theater; it would probably get much better results, with little to no cost.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:15 AM on September 20, 2011


From the WP article:
When researchers reviewed the data, they found a striking result: Those warned about the gastrointestinal problems were almost three times as likely to have the side effect. Though the evidence of actual stomach damage such as ulcers was the same for all three groups, those with the most information about the prospect of minor problems were the most likely to experience the pain.
Or were 3 times more likely to report the gastric pain as a side effect of the aspirin, rather than attribute it to the tacos they ate yesterday or stress or possible lactose intolerance and never discuss it with the aspirin researchers?
posted by BrashTech at 10:22 AM on September 20, 2011


For the people who enjoyed this article, I would highly recommend reading Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.
posted by Evernix at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2011


See also
posted by kersplunk at 10:48 AM on September 20, 2011


Wow, I wish the evil presence in my sleep paralysis hallucinations was a shadowy figure or a gray alien or some kind of common supernatural being. For me, it's Richard Nixon sneaking into my bedroom to fill my head with proto-neo-con BS while I can't escape or talk back.

Chilling, yes, but not aneurysm-inducing scary at least.

I realize it sounds like I am making this up but sadly, it's all true
posted by trunk muffins at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've also experienced sleep paralysis for as long as I can remember. I've had similar experiences as those above to varying degrees. there is terror, but not overwhelming terror now that I'm used to not being able to move and understanding it. It's never been a huge deal.

The other end of sleep paralysis happens when I'm going to sleep several times a week. I'll fall physically asleep, but spend some time completely conscious. All of my senses slowly dull and I am totally unable to move my body. I can wake up from this by really focusing on waking/getting up or by a startling touch, noise, etc. in the room. I don't want to snap out of it though because it's incredible. I am 6'7" and a bit overweight, so my back and knees are often sore or tight and I tend to feel a lot of mental stress physically. I also always have too many things running through my head. But for those wonderful few minutes of half-consciousness (which can feel like a VERY long time) I have no physical or mental stress or pain. It's an odd kind of peace that I've only ever gotten close to with meditation and even that didn't come close to this. I thought this was a universal thing until people started telling me that I'm weird. Other than the peace vs. terror, it's very close to what I feel when I have sleep paralysis when waking up.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:56 AM on September 20, 2011


All right, now I really want to know.
What the heck does 'Evil' feel like?
posted by HFSH at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh what a bunch of bunk. I read through the article and the first thing that sprung to mind is the old Japanese myth that you can't sleep all night under a fan in the summer, it will kill you. When I first stayed in Japan during the summer, I had a fan that had a timer that would shut off after 30 minutes. I asked why, I thought this was a huge pain in the butt since it would shut off just as I was falling asleep and then I'd swelter all night and get hardly any sleep. I was told the timer was for my own safety, in case I fell asleep with it running and it might blow away my soul or some such rubbish superstition. I said that was ridiculous but everyone insisted they knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone who had died from leaving the fan on all night. I didn't want to argue so I just jammed a pencil in the timer and slept under the fan all night.

Are you sure you didn't accidentally go to South Korea? I've never ever heard of fan death associated with Japan.

I also wonder about this "sleep paralysis" thing. I've had that a couple of times. I was like "Hmm, I'm awake but I can't move. I guess I'm still asleep. Oh well, go back to sleep." I certainly didn't find it terrifying.

Good to know! I guess that means everybody else is lying because people certainly can't have different experiences.
posted by kmz at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also wonder about this "sleep paralysis" thing. I've had that a couple of times. I was like "Hmm, I'm awake but I can't move. I guess I'm still asleep. Oh well, go back to sleep." I certainly didn't find it terrifying.

I'd wager that non-terrifying sleep paralysis might be fairly common, but the events that get noticed and remembered are the scary ones.
posted by cirrostratus at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


At the risk of too much information, I experience occasional sleep-paralysis with an intense erotic component. This is apparently not unheard of, and may provide at least some explanation for the incubus and succubus myths. Anyway...
posted by howfar at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, first The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and now this. The Hmong immigrant community in the states seems like it's probably had one of the more unique and difficult immigrant experiences in the recent history of the country. I had never heard of this happening.

Also my only sleep paralysis experience that I remember was super weak.

My dinner that night had been delivered pizza, and when I woke partially up I somehow knew that the pizza man had come back for me. I was in college and living in a crappy little student apartment building, and I could hear him slowly coming down the hallway, calling my name.

I don't know if anyone's ever been 100% convinced the pizza guy is about to murder you, but the moment when your brain manufactures the idea that he's just silently opened the door ("did I forget to lock it oh jesus") and then you try to scream for help and all you can manage is the croak of an expiring bull frog: that is not a good moment.
posted by kavasa at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


howfar: "I experience occasional sleep-paralysis with an intense erotic component. This is apparently not unheard of, and may provide at least some explanation for the incubus and succubus myths."

Man, some guys have all the luck.
posted by danny the boy at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


ack I just got it this morning - I'm lucky in that I don't feel like there is and evil presence holding me down, but there is definitely something I want to do, and am unable to move and accomplish it. This morning it was that one of my pet birds was out of his cage and on the pillow beside me, and I wanted to put him back so I didn't hurt him accidentally in my sleep. It was pretty stressful until I woke up to find that everything was ok, and the birds were happily sleeping exactly where they were supposed to be.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2011


spectrevsrector

I know you didn't enjoy it and I probably wouldn't either, but that still sounds fucking awesome and I would gladly have some of whatever you were smoking, though I'm sure I'd regret it.

(Was it, by any chance, Salvia?)
posted by tempythethird at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2011


Occasionally I get something like this, but it's the opposite of paralysis. I spring out of bed and wake up with my feet on the floor, heart hammering BAMBAMBAM and ready to fight, but not sure what's going on. Then I'll remember seeing a two foot spider hanging on the ceiling over my head or a giant rat on the wall, and I turn on the light, but of course there's nothing there. Then I'll spend the next minute or so looking in the corners of the room, under the bed and in the closet, trying to find that damn spider. When my pulse slows down a little the rational part of my brain wakes up and I realize what's going on: it's that night terrors thing - but the irrational part of my brain is still totally convinced that I'm in mortal danger and it takes a while to calm down.

It's kind of scary, just because it's so involuntary. I could easily trip and fall while jumping out of bed, but never seem to. And afterwards the pillows and blankets are spread around the room like there was an explosion.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:53 PM on September 20, 2011


I know you didn't enjoy it and I probably wouldn't either, but that still sounds fucking awesome and I would gladly have some of whatever you were smoking, though I'm sure I'd regret it.

Ha, I have a strict 'no hippy drugs' policy, though I imagine I'd had a glass or two of wine that evening.

In retrospect it was amazing (I'd use the blink tag here if I thought I could get away with it). Seriously. It thrills me that my brain could do that.

The other times it's happened I've been more aware of what was going on so was less scared at the time - once it was a foot high thin man moving backwards and forwards at high speed, which would have been terrifying if it was the first experience.

The other time there was a baby deer in my bedroom, which was much nicer, and clearly related to having seen deer earlier that day in Clissold Park.

Now I wish it would happen more often.
posted by spectrevsrector at 2:09 PM on September 20, 2011


were they not paralysed

Was not paralysed, but woke up from a particularly interesting dream/nightmare last night (something demonic/devilish/deathlike taunting from outside a house), got up, when nearly immediately the dog started barking at something outside the door/window. Which - admittedly did kind of freak me out a bit. Did not stop me from trying to jump back into the dream again though ;-) Nice to be dreaming again - treatment of sleep apnea is a must - it has been nearly a decade since I have been able to recall/have such vivid dreams!
posted by jkaczor at 2:46 PM on September 20, 2011


Once I woke up from one of those night terror things and went for a walk through the house to calm down. When I got to the kitchen I looked through the window, thinking it was a nice evening, when I noticed someone moving in the back yard. BANG, I'm instantly back in fight or flight mode. So I peered through the window, heart pounding, trying to make out who it was. The light was so dim I couldn't see much more than a gray figure going back and forth, back and forth. Then I realized it was the old lady who lived on the other side of the alley, mowing her lawn at 2:00 in the morning. She must have had a push mower or something, because she was totally silent, just going back and forth over the grass. It was so bizarre and unexpected I laughed out loud, and it was easy to go back to sleep.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:08 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I experience occasional sleep-paralysis with an intense erotic component. This is apparently not unheard of, and may provide at least some explanation for the incubus and succubus myths.

Or maybe you were really having sex with a demon.
posted by homunculus at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2011


So does anyone here get sleep paralysis without being able to open your eyes? Whenever I told people about this I described it as feeling as though I forgot how to wake up. It was occasionally very distressing when you realize you can't move or open your eyes.

Then there was the one time I woke up and couldn't move my arms. That was a fully awake thing though. I had fallen asleep and somehow rolled around until my t-shirt was bunched up ant pinned behind my back, cutting off circulation to my arms. I had to open my bedroom door with my mouth.
posted by Hoopo at 4:12 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've experienced something similar to incubus sleep paralysis. It wasn't scary, thankfully, and my husband got quite the wake up call. Everyone won, in that instance. So, erm...yay, demon?
posted by dejah420 at 4:30 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've experienced something similar to incubus sleep paralysis. It wasn't scary, thankfully, and my husband got quite the wake up call. Everyone won, in that instance. So, erm...yay, demon?

We've found a witch. May we burn her?
posted by hippybear at 4:35 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


One theory I read a while back is that you in effect, have two brains, and two sub personalities - the left and right brain, yet one of the sides is dominant and what you perceive as your 'normal' personality is primarily that of the dominant side. When control fluctuates between the two, you can end up with schizophrenia or bipolar. Sometimes when you sleep, the 'wrong' side wakes up first, and you experience that as sleep paralysis, or sleep walking/speaking as the 'you' hasn't yet asserted control, and the other brain half is doing what it wants.

This can lead to some interesting effects when a Corpus callosotomy is performed, i.e. partial cutting of the link between the hemispheres, and communication is much reduced.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:30 AM on September 21, 2011


I know this update falls in the category of thread update for extremely unpopular minority thread but I wanted to say that I spoke at some length with Hanne about the greensickness conclusion that the Harvard School of Medicine came up with (or rather the assertion that all greensickness cases were in fact hyperchromic anemia, which the Wikipedia article also asserts).

Turns out according to Hanne that the Wikipedia article on Chlorosis probably shouldn't be citing Helen King if the assertion is that chlorosis/greensickness are the same thing as hyperchromic anemia.

Hanne asserts that a careful reading of Helen King's monograph shows that she supports the same conclusion that Hanne came to - that we cannot know. The only two (anecdotal - because historiographs, even medical ones, do not primarily report lab results, even if lab results were available at the time of the case) symptoms that folks are basing this assertion that greensickness was identical to hyperchromic anemia on is that folks were anemic and had no appetite.

The actual procedure for diagnosis of hyperchromic anemia is a blood test. And all the blood involved in all these cases of greensickness since 1517 is gone. It is worm food. There were few if any blood tests for these cases, so we can't know what greensickness was in the majority of cases. And unfortunately what muddies the waters even more is that anemia and lack of appetite are common to many many other medical syndromes, diseases, etc that we have identified throughout the history of medicine.

For further information, look at Helen King's monograph. She's the world expert on this topic (greensickness and what we can and cannot assert about its actual medical causes), having studied it for 47 years.
posted by kalessin at 5:37 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get sleep paralysis when I am sufficiently exhausted to fall asleep laying face up (normally I fall asleep on my side or stomach, and slowly transition into a back-sleeping position in the early morning). I don't know why, but it's only when I fall asleep on my back. When I wake up, not only can I not move a muscle, I can't breathe either. Sometimes I also "sense" an evil presence in the room, but unlike the classic demon-sitting-on-chest sensation, I never see it or physically feel it touching me. I would probably have a heart attack and nocebo myself if that happened. Still, not being able to take a breath is scary enough on its own.

I used to fall asleep on the sofa while watching TV with my sister, and after about a minute of making weird gurgling sounds, wake up sitting bolt upright and gasping for air. My sister learned to gently wake me by touching my arm if she ever heard me making the weird noises.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:50 AM on September 21, 2011


The first example in the article talks about sleep paralysis. This phenomenon can account for what people feel are alien UFO visits. Just like the X-files central event [Mulder's sister taken by aliens at night], people feel paralyzed and in fear when they wake during sleep paralysis. This is another natural phenomenom that people can think of as unnatural.
posted by RuvaBlue at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2011


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