The Nightmare takes on an issue that afflicts about 10% of the population, wherein night terrors feel very real.
Humanity is afflicted by a myriad of sleep disorders. Conditions like narcolepsy and insomnia are commonly known, and have treatment options. Sleep paralysis is a much less talked about problem. Those with this condition can feel like they are awake, but cannot move. They then experience hallucinations rooted in their real-world environment, often with a terrifying edge. Before the Internet enabled people to pool stories, many thought that they were alone in what they saw when they closed their eyes.
One friend described to me the incredible fear that accompanied her certainty that a demonic creature climbed over her at night. The feeling of a dark, stalking figure seems to crop up commonly, as does pressure on the afflicted’s chest or body. The 1791 painting The Nightmare by Swiss artist Henry Fuseli perfectly captures the sleep paralysis experience for many people, and demonstrates that this phenomenon manifested in a similar way throughout the centuries.
Now a documentary from Room 237’s Rodney Ascher, The Nightmare, talks to people who suffer from sleep paralysis. Alongside interviews, the film recreates their dream-stories with professional actors and what looks like some intentionally dramatized filmmaking:
Scare tactics aside, I can’t wait to watch. I’ve been interested in the idea of sleep paralysis since I first saw Fuseli’s painting and started to read about the disorder. Almost every culture has a unique name for sleep paralysis, and several ascribe it to supernatural causes. Considering that people experience very real-seeming encounters with frightening demons of the night, it’s not hard to see why. Depending on who you ask, it’s a witch, a ghost, or an incubus at work. And doctors still aren’t sure exactly why it happens, nor can they prevent these episodes from recurring.
Have you experienced a sleep paralysis nightmare? Tell us about it in the comments.