We’ve endured two clammy, stifling, absolutely disgusting heat waves so far this summer and my relief at their passing isn’t just due to the physical discomfort factor but rather that I won’t have to endure the bad dreams that range from disquieting to downright nightmares every time there’s an extended period of heat and humidity. The air conditioner doesn’t seem to make a lick of difference and though I have absolutely no scientific proof, I speculate the villain is meteorological.
I don’t know whether to feel envy or empathy for a good friend of mine who recently told me she can never remember any of her dreams. Not only do I remember mine, I have them on a virtual Rolodex in my head, and even have some of them sorted and stored into reoccurring theme categories – climbing, houses, flying, etc. But high heat and humidity have added a new category to the Rolodex – the ‘Old Hag.’
A deceptively peaceful deep morning slumber – my favourite time for sleeping – was terrifyingly interrupted recently by a spectre that had instantly materialized, sitting on my chest, staring into my face as it began to strangle me. I tried to fight it off with flailing arms and though it was wearing a dark hood obscuring its features, I intuitively knew the apparition was female. I don’t know how I managed to burst through the fright-induced paralysis but I do remember sitting bolt upright in bed, heart pounding, hands shaking, bathed in a cold sweat.
So realistic was the experience that I searched the house for signs of an intruder. The sun streaming through the windows did little to reassure me and I spent the next few days hungover and jumpy from the encounter.
Having a visit from The Old Hag in the middle of the night is, apparently, not a unique experience. It’s been recorded throughout international folklore, reportedly at the intersection of sleep and consciousness when entering or exiting a period of REM sleep. While science may refer to it as a hypnopompic hallucination, typically occurring during sleep paralysis, I distinctly remember a physical struggle.
It’s said to affect people with unstable sleeping schedules (like, yunno, parents) and those who live in regions where winters are long and has a reportedly significantly higher occurrence in the Maritime Provinces due to the long isolating winters. It can also occur in those who’ve suffered a brain injury. Absolutely none of this research made me feel any better.
Sleepwalking runs through my family kind of like freckles… as in just a smattering and not affecting every member. But this new, unwelcome visitor appears to be a stranger to my siblings and offspring whom I’ve discussed it with. In fact, the only person I know who’d had a similar experience – while it’s a stretch – was my General Manager, though the presence that showed up in the middle of the night to cut off her air supply was not a ghost but her obese, long-haired black and white cat named Angus.
The extended forecast for the next week shows an unstable humidex reading with spikes projected for Tuesday and Wednesday.
I’ll be sleeping with one eye open.