When they sleep, half the brain is dormant while the other half stays alert. The word literally means to be "tightly bound" or "tied down", and it is an old Japanese folk expression for what in English is called "sleep paralysis". Cox, David Vampires, ghosts, and demons: About half of us will have at least one episode of kanashibari in our lifetimes. I remember lying in my bed, my body being pressed by someone in long white clothes.
Add to that that this is a time when young people are experiencing the pressure of entrance examinations, and when sleep patterns are often interrupted due to long hours of study. People who wake up paralysed, hear strange noises, see lights, and feel like they are floating off their bed may recall images of alien encounters seen or heard in the mass media, and conclude that that is what is happening to them. Sleep paralysis occurs when the body's transition to or from REM sleep is "out of time" with that of the brain, that is, the body is asleep while the brain is either awake or half-awake. An encounter with the spirit world? It can even be caused by humans. In ancient England, it was called "witch riding", because people believed that witches descended upon the helpless sleepers and carried them off on their broomsticks. Japanese studies have shown that the most common age for the onset of kanashibari is the mid-teens for girls and the late teens for boys, that is, puberty, which on its own can be extremely stressful. In ancient Japan, it was a giant devil who stepped on people's chests as they slept. In other cultures, the experience has been attributed to a ghost China and Korea , a demon feeding on the living Fiji and, in the southern United States, to a witch. Remember the inugami we looked at earlier this month, and how they can possess people? By monitoring volunteers in sleep labs, scientists have found that episodes of sleep paralysis occur when rapid-eye-movement REM stages of sleep overlap with waking stages. One night, this person woke up in the middle of the night with sleep paralysis. What on Earth does that feel like? Japanese researchers believe that reports of alien abductions in the U. Susan Blackmore, in , linked alleged experiences of alien abduction with sleep paralysis. One thing I love about it is that it is similar to the medieval Western superstition regarding the same medical phenomenon: Typically, it involves an ugly woman, often dressed in white, sitting on the sleeper or making eerie sounds. As the evidence suggests that teenagers in both Japan and South Korea are more sleep-deprived than those in Western countries and China, Kaneita and his coauthors recommend that health education about regular sleep habits should be promoted among Japanese adolescents. Consider, for instance, dolphins and seals: In other cultures, the experience has been attributed to a ghost China and Korea , a demon feeding on the living Fiji and, in the southern United States, to a witch. In Japan, too, the phenomenon seems to disproportionately affect young people, while homegrown horror films often play on a psychological fear of ghosts manifesting in the real world. I tried to call out to someone for help, but I couldn't make a sound, or even move my lips. Some sufferers report that their eyes are open and that they can look around but cannot do anything else, while others cannot even open their eyes. But if you described the same experience to a Japanese person, he or she would most likely be able to tell you straight away what it was. No matter what cultural form it takes, kanashibari excites and terrifies. Sweet dreams to all in this new year of ! Nonetheless, for something so intrinsic to the human condition, sleep remains poorly understood.
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