Can nightmares actually kill people? It appears so.
During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Los Angeles Times ran a handful of articles exploring why young, male Cambodian refugees who escaped the terrifying Khmer Rouge were mysteriously dying in their sleep.
These articles were the horrifying, real life inspiration for Wes Craven’s character Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
Allegedly, because the refugees would continuously have nightmares about their experiences (from 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge killed approximately two million people, or 25% of the country’s population) evading the genocide when they closed their eyes, they eventually refused to sleep and stayed awake for as long as they possibly could.
The post-traumatic stress they were suffering from could not be avoided.
When they finally did lose their struggle to stay awake, they’d fall asleep only to wake up screaming and thrashing around in their bed before suddenly dying.
Aside from the unusual heart activity that occurred right before their death, the refugees were in perfect health.
It’s called Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome, or SUNDS, and we think it’s far more frightening than just some burnt-faced guy with knives for fingers who murders you in your dreams.
According to a 1988 article on SUNDS:
In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control began tracking a mysterious rash of sudden unexplained nocturnal deaths occurring in apparently healthy, male immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The problem, unknown in other ethnic groups, has now claimed more than 104 men, averaging 33 years of age, and one woman, according to Dr. Gib Parrish, a CDC medical epidemiologist.
Ninety-eight percent of the deaths occurred beetween 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.