Disturbed Sleep. Nightmare. Incubus.
IN this complaint the sleep is disturbed generally by some frightful image. Whatever of an alarming character is presented to the mind in sleep, causes fear, or some other painful emotion, the same as when awake. And when the attempt is made to resist, or to flee from the danger, it is ineffectual because the muscles are locked fast in sleep. The fear being increased by the inability to escape, the sleeper makes all sorts of horrible noises, indicating distress of mind. The danger seen is as real to the sleeper as if he were awake, and he tries to do just what he would if awake. Sometimes the sensation is that some heavy weight, or perhaps some horrible monster, is upon the breast, nearly pressing the breath out of the body.
At times, the power of motion is not absent and then disturbed dreams may cause one to talk, or to rise and walk, or run. Children will laugh or cry, or scream, which shows that their minds are agitated by different passions. Persons who indulge gloomy and troublous thoughts in their waking hours are apt to be disturbed with sleep walking, sleep talking, and frightful dreams, as of falling down precipices, during the hours for repose.
There is nothing very wonderful about these disturbances of sleep. It is only necessary that there should be an unusual sensitiveness of the brain, or that a hearty supper, eaten late, should irritate the nerves of the stomach, and that distressing thoughts should be dwelt upon during the day and evening, in order to produce all the walking, talking, dreaming of hobgoblins, shipwrecks, fires and polar bears, which distress so many unfortunate sleepers.
In night walking there is simply a little more wakefulness than in night talking, and in this latter, more than when one fans from a high place, and in this perhaps slightly more than in real incubus, when one is in the greatest peril, but cannot move at all.
Treatment, When sleeping persons groan, or make any noise indicating nightmare, shake them, and they will come out of it at once. As these troubles are often caused by a weakened state of the nerves, much out door exercise should be taken. The diet should be simple, and well regulated. The suppers should be light, and never taken late. The evening should be spent in some pleasant amusement, which will drive away care; and the last hours of wakefulness be occupied with pleasant reflections. One afflicted with nightmare should not lie upon the back, nor with the hands over the head. Acidity of the stomach, and costiveness, if they exist, should be removed by neutralizing mixture.
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