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October 18, 2017
Nightmare on Elm Street is a massive horror franchise spanning nine films, a TV show, novelizations, and comic books, and it all centers around the concept of taking lucid dreaming to its most terrifying conclusion.
Its creator, Wes Craven, was reportedly inspired by strange and tragic real-life events. While Freddy Krueger is soley a work of fiction, recent research suggests there may actually be a connection between lucid dreaming and death.
Essentially, lucid dreaming is when the dreamer is aware of dreaming. Lucid dreaming can be a fun “trip,” but it can turn frustrating or downright scary when you try to wake up from the dream, but can’t.
For example, you may dream that you’ve woken up and started your morning routine. At first, you’ll feel like you’re really going through the motions, but you’ll soon realize that something is off. You’ll become aware that you’re dreaming, but you may fear oversleeping if you don’t wake up. In your dream, you may attempt to wake yourself up and even resort to screaming at yourself, often to no avail. Some people find that this starts the “waking dream” process over, ramping up your frustration as you feel you’re stuck in an infinite loop. However, lucid dreaming can offer benefits, including artistic inspiration. Turns out, cultural factors play a big role in the type of lucid dreams we experience.
While lucid dreams may not bring about the vengeful, undead specter of a child murderer who can actually kill you, they can be pretty scary at times. Many a mythological monster has been invented by past societies in an attempt to explain the phenomenon of lucid dreaming and its close cousin, sleep paralysis, including the dab tsog, which was behind the tragic events that served as inspiration for Freddy Krueger.
The dab tsog was a murderous sleep beast from the folklore of the Hmong people of mountainous Southeast Asia. The Hmong were repeatedly displaced due to politics and war, and in the 1970s and 80s, about 35,000 Hmong came to America. Inexplicably, dozens of healthy, young Hmong men started dying in their sleep. Termed “Asian Death Syndrome” or “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome,” researchers soon found that these same types of deaths had been occurring for a long time in places like Japan and the Philippines.
Survivors of SUNDS described sleep paralysis coupled with lucid dreams in which a beast, like the dab tsog, suffocated or attacked them. SUNDS went on to kill dozens more until researchers discovered that a congenital heart condition, exacerbated by serious stress, was the actual cause of death.
SUNDS was renamed Brugada Syndrome. In 1992, a researcher named Shelley Adler connected the dots between the dab tsog and Brugada Syndrome. In Hmong lore, the dab tsog attacks when the ancestors and village spirits cease guarding a family. This was believed to occur as a result neglecting religious rituals. Adler posited that the cultural stress of displacement combined with a sincere belief in the dab tsog caused the Hmong people to literally scare themselves to death with the conviction that the beast was going to kill them. Adler believed that the brain triggered Brugada Syndrome, stopping the heart even as the victim was experiencing a lucid dream of being killed by the dab tsog. Essentially, believing in the sleep beast made it real.
The tragic fate of the displaced Hmong suggests that the connection between the brain and the body can be bridged through dreaming. In 2014, researchers found further evidence of this dream bridge by studying subjects receiving hospice care. People in the final stages of life tend to have vivid, often lucid, dreams and visions. Far from the feverish nightmare visions of Freddy Krueger and the dab tsog, these dreams are overwhelmingly positive and pleasant. It seems that in many cases, these dreams are comforting as the dying brain reacts to its fate with peace and acceptance rather than terror.
Have you ever died in a lucid dream? Share your experiences in the comments!