L'Information Psychiatrique


The nightmare: the history of the concept clinical results and social implications Volume 86, issue 1, janvier 2010

Établissement public de santé Alsace Nord (EPSAN), Secteur de psychiatrie adulte 67G06, 141, avenue de Strasbourg, Brumath, Établissement public de santé Alsace Nord (EPSAN), Secteur de psychiatrie adulte 67G03, 141, avenue de Strasbourg, Brumath, Centre Hospitalier Spécialisé d’Erstein, Secteur de psychiatrie adulte 67G12, Erstein

Today the term nightmare is used in the popular language as a medical term to designate a bad dream. It only refers in this case to a modern definition which is far from reflecting the clinical reality originally intended by this term. Since antiquity sleep pathology has intrigued physicians and fed popular beliefs. It refers to the Greek politician Ephialtes, the Incubus of the Romans, Kanashibari (or “sleep paralysis”) of the Japanese, and the nightmare in Europe during the Middle Ages. In all cases the description is invariable: the sleeper paralyzed in their bed, describes a strong chest pressure that prevents them from breathing as if a creature was sitting on their chest. How has this concept evolved over time and to what extent can this feed popular folklore. What neuropsychiatric disorder is hidden behind such a description of a night attack which appears to be universal?