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Synopsis

A Treatise on the Incubus, or Night-Mare, Disturbed Sleep, Terrific Dreams and Nocturnal Visions

There must however be some reason for the universal opinion that it always attacks persons lying on the back. I was for a long time of opinion myself, that I was always lying in that position when the paroxysm came on, but as the disease gained strength, and the paroxysms hung more pertinaciously upon me, I became more perfectly awake, so as to be able to discover more accurately the position in which I was lying, and I found that little faith was to be given to the sensations that may occur during Night-Mare, as they are the most deceitful of all evidences. It appears to be one of the symptoms almost inseparable[Pg 73] from the disease, that the patient should appear to himself to be kept down upon the back by some external force. This sensation I have almost always felt, even when I have had the evidence of other people, as well as my own conviction when awake, that I was in reality lying on the side. I cannot help suspecting that many others have been deceived in a similar manner, and thus made to believe, that they never had the Night-Mare except when sleeping on their backs. There is also another sensation which is very apt to deceive the patient, that is, on the paroxysm going off, and the moment of his recovering the power of volition, a great confusion of ideas always takes place, and a person to whom the Night-Mare is not very familiar, generally imagines that he has recovered himself by some effort of his own, frequently by turning from his back to his side, sometimes by sitting upright in bed. These things are all extremely fallacious; there is no trusting to the senses during a paroxysm of Incubus; nothing short of the evidence of another person ought to satisfy the patient. I have often been thoroughly convinced in my own mind that I had succeeded in throwing the bed-clothes off my breast, and by that means gained relief, and not unfrequently, that I had risen from bed, and opened the window to admit air; yet both these ideas have been proved to be incorrect. I have often felt very certain that my right arm was out of bed, and that I had moved it about; but on waking thoroughly, I have found it under the bed-clothes, and in a situation in which it could not have been moved. I cannot help thinking then, that the universal idea of its attacking persons exclusively lying on the back, is founded on an error, arising out of the ordinary sensations of the patients themselves, who have always that idea, let them be in what position they will. Several persons, subject to habitual Night-Mare, have become convinced of the truth of this observation, which I had made to them, after attending more closely to their real situation during the continuance of, and immediately after the paroxysm. I have also convinced one or two medical friends, who were extremely sceptical on that point, that it would attack me in any position, by going to sleep before them, on a chair, or sofa, when my own feelings have indicated the certainty of attack, if I should indulge for a few moments the propensity I felt to sleep.

 

Neither is it necessary for the stomach to be filled with food, in order to produce Night-Mare, as is evident from what I have stated above with respect to the abstinence I observed during the period in which I suffered most from this affection. Experience has taught me that I may eat heartily of some kinds of food, just before going to bed, with impunity; whilst the smallest quantity[Pg 76] of some other will inevitably bring on the disease, in spite of all the precautions that can be taken.

 

Thus then we must give up every explanation of the phenomena which occur in this disease, founded upon principles purely mechanical, however plausible they may appear. Neither is the opinion of Darwin more correct, that the Night-Mare is nothing more than a consciousness of the suspension of the power of volition, and a desire to recover that power. If so, it would differ little from sleep itself; or, however fatiguing it might be to the mind, it could not occasion any derangement in the functions. The breathing and the circulation would go on without any interruption, as in sleep; nor would there be any thing that could produce the sense of oppression on the breast. Darwin was well aware of this difficulty, and therefore chose rather to contradict the generally received opinion of oppression and difficulty of respiration. There is no doubt whatever of the difficulty of breathing, which any one may assure himself of, if he could have the opportunity of seeing a patient during the paroxysm of Night-Mare. I have taken considerable pains to assure myself of this circumstance from the evidence of other persons.

 

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