[APG Public List] Cause of death question

Ray Beere Johnson II raybeere at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 25 08:01:12 MDT 2010

Larry, Janey, & Others;
     Larry is right, of course. This is - as far as we know - the closest modern medical understanding of the reality underlying the beliefs I described.
     It is possible I misinterpreted the original question, but I was trying to explore the _contemporary_ understanding. I suspect this was not always accurate. For example, a doctor familiar with the condition of night terrors might presume anyone who died in the middle of the night of a heart attack, having a pained or terrified expression on their face, had suffered from this, even if it was an ordinary heart attack with no relation to night terrors. (Night terrors, by the way, is a "subgenre" of the nightmare. In fact, this was the variety which most specifically gave rise to the belief an actual, spectral mare visited the sufferer, seeking to suffocate them.) They would not have had the knowledge at the time to distinguish between an actual case of night terrors and any situation which mimicked it.
     Of course, the personal history of the individual might have contributed to the doctor's conclusion, in which case it would be more likely to be accurate. But, there is still the third possibility, that the newspaper tended to publish lurid accounts on the slightest excuse. There were some papers that did this (still are, in fact ;-D ) and I think you'd need to read through a number of issues to get a sense of the tone and quality of their coverage.
     If you are interested in exploring the history and folklore of nightmares to gain more context, you might consider reading _Nightmare_ by Sandra Shulman, David and Charles, London, 1979.
                                 Ray Beere Johnson II

> There is a condition known commonly as "night terrors," which is more 
> widespread than previously thought, and is now considered to be related 
> to a type of sleep apnea (sleep apnea in turn is linked to higher risk 
> of heart attack).  Anyone suffering from this particular type of 
> 'waking nightmare' would likely have been known to suffer from them, 
> and a subsequent death in the night could easily be attributed to that, 
> even if not directly caused by the episode.  
> The episodes are incredibly terrifying though, enough to cause severe 
> emotional reactions which would be well known by family members.
> So obviously not literally death from a nightmare, but in the eyes of 
> people who were aware of the deceased suffered in this way, maybe it 
> would seem a possible explanation, rightly or wrongly, if the 
> individual died during the night.  Literally people act as if they are 
> frightened to death, and report that they thought they were going to 
> die.


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