Goodreads giveaway – win a free paperback!

SLEEP NO MORE NEW ebook COVER ANGELO MARCOS DEC 2015 500 width

As of today, Goodreads are running a giveaway to win a paperback copy of my psychological thriller Sleep No More!

To be in with a chance of winning just click here to enter.

After the closing date (5 Feb) Goodreads will get in touch with the winners, and I’ll send the free books to those lucky, lucky people.

 

 (If you’ve already got the book/couldn’t care less about psychological thrillers, feel free to share this with anybody else who might want a copy.)

 Good luck everyone!

Goodreads Giveaway – Win a signed paperback!

SLEEP NO MORE NEW ebook COVER ANGELO MARCOS DEC 2015 500 width

Yup, as the chunky title says, you could win a signed copy of my psychological thriller Sleep No More!

(You know it’s exciting because I used an exclamation mark and everything.)

The giveaway is being run by Goodreads, and you can enter by clicking on this link or on the cover picture.

Goodreads will notify me and the winner after the closing date. I’ll then sign the book, send it out, and bask in the warm glow that comes from knowing I’ve made someone’s dream come true.

Or, you know, make a sandwich.  Either way it’s all good.

Anyway, why are you still reading this? Enter the giveaway here!

The Nightmare of Sleep Paralysis

The Nightmare of Sleep Paralysis Angelo Marcos

The Nightmare of Sleep Paralysis

Anybody who has been reading this blog for a while will know that I often suffer from sleep paralysis.

(If you don’t know what that is, here is my colourful description)

Sleep paralysis has pretty much been explained by science, although there are still aspects that we don’t understand.  We’ll get to that later though.  For the moment, what exactly do we know about sleep paralysis?

 

Sleep Paralysis is Good

Seriously.

If our brains didn’t paralyse us as we slept, then we’d be up and acting out our dreams.

And this isn’t theoretical, there are numerous cases of people doing this, sometimes resulting in fatalities.

So sleep paralysis is doing us a favour, it only becomes a problem when it occurs outside of actual sleep.

This phenomenon is known as either awareness during sleep paralysis or isolated sleep paralysis, but for the purposes of this blog post I’m going to refer to it simply as sleep paralysis.

 

Stages of Sleep and Sleep Paralysis

There is a lot that we don’t know about sleep – we’re not even sure exactly why we need it at all, and don’t even get me started on why we dream – but there is a general consensus about certain things.

Most researchers agree that there are five stages of sleep, occurring in repeating cycles of 90-120 minutes throughout a person’s sleep period.

Stage one is light sleep. We are ‘drifting off’ at this point, and it doesn’t take much to wake us. This stage is commonly associated with muscle twitches and what are known as ‘hypnic jerks’ – which are those odd sensations where you feel as though you’re falling and your body suddenly judders and wakes you up.

At stage two we drift further into sleep. Muscle activity lowers and we start to become much less aware of the external environment.

Stages three and four are often grouped together as one single stage. Here, our brain waves slow right down. Using electroencephalography (in essence, reading the electrical activity of the brain), researchers will see long ‘delta’ waves here. These stages are considered to be the most rejuvenating and restful.

Stage five is the REM sleep stage, also known as paradoxical sleep, also known as ‘the stage where the weird stuff happens’. I’m going to hand over to Derek here, the sleep technician from my novel Sleep No More, to explain the rest:

     “Stage five is my favourite part because fun things start happening. You start breathing more rapidly and not as regularly, your muscles are paralysed and your eyes jerk around all over the place. If you want to know where sleep paralysis lives, it’s here Chief. Your brain actually paralyses you – think about that, our brain paralyses us every single night! It does this so we don’t start trying to get up and act out our dreams in our bedrooms, which is a good thing. But…”
     He paused for effect and raised a finger. Anthony – whose name was now apparently Chief – wondered just how many hours this man had spent studying sleeping strangers from this dark little room.
     “When there’s overlap between this stage and waking up,” Derek continued, gesticulating excitedly, “then your brain might get confused and keep you paralysed for a while. On top of that, your heart rate gets quicker too, your body can’t regulate its temperature properly anymore, and your blood pressure ratchets up. Imagine it Chief, imagine waking up paralysed, in the middle of the night, with your heart racing a hundred miles an hour, and feeling either unbearably hot or painfully cold. Not nice, Chief. It’s the kind of thing that, over enough time, would drive a person insane…”
     He gave a throaty chuckle but Anthony didn’t join in. He suddenly felt the legs of a hundred spiders scuttling down his back.

So sleep paralysis is essentially a ‘glitch’ where our brains keep us paralysed even though we’ve already woken up.

There is, of course, more to the sleep paralysis phenomenon than not being able to move though, which leads us nicely to…

 

Hallucinations and Sleep Paralysis 

One of the big ‘unknowns’ of sleep paralysis is why sufferers often sense or see a malevolent presence in the room with them. A common experience is of an entity sitting on the chest of the victim (as famously portrayed in a painting by Henry Fuseli entitled ‘The Nightmare’).

Hallucinations of this type are known as hypnopompic hallucinations, although unfortunately giving something a silly name doesn’t make it any less disturbing.

As Creepy Derek said above, REM sleep is where sleep paralysis lives. It’s also where our most vivid dreams live too, and so hypnopompic hallucinations could be explained as ‘leakage’ of these dreams into reality (in the same way that sleep paralysis ‘leaks’ into wakefulness). By virtue of the fact that we are awake – albeit not fully – it follows that we might ‘see’ elements of our dreams in our actual, real surroundings.

In addition, the part of the brain responsible for intense emotions – the amygdala – is heightened as we dream, which would amplify the emotions we feel. Waking up paralysed will of course evoke negative emotions, and so the fact our amygdala is already heightened would mean those emotions are likely to be extreme.

In short, why wouldn’t we feel terror?

So we have an explanation for the paralysis itself, the hallucinations, and the extreme feelings of panic. So we can all go home now, yeah?

Not quite.

The strangest thing about sleep paralysis, and the only thing that none of the research or literature has been able to explain, is why different people all seem to hallucinate similar – if not exactly the same – images.

Very often it’s an old hag, sitting on the chest of the victim, and/or a shadowy presence in the corner of the room.

If the ‘members’ of these specific groups all shared apparitions common to each other – for instance, people in the West all seeing one type of figure, and people in the Far East seeing another type – then the argument could be made for societal influence, or that the inherent values or views of those particular groups could have influenced their hallucinations.

But these apparitions – old hag, sitting on chest, shadowy figure – are common to hugely diverse groups all over the world, and also to people throughout the centuries.  This means that a person who suffered sleep paralysis two hundred years ago may well have seen exactly the same apparition that you might see tonight.

Looking at it that way, it’s no wonder that some people ascribe sleep paralysis not to glitches in the sleep process or dream-like states, but to supernatural phenomena.

 

Breaking the Spell of Sleep Paralysis

Ok, so we’ve looked at what it is, but what can we do to stop it?

One strategy that a lot of people claim helps them, is to sleep on their front as it means that if and when they wake up paralysed, then at least nothing can possibly be sitting on their chest.

Personally, I tried this but it actually made things worse. In short, instead of waking up paralysed with a pressure on my chest, I woke up paralysed with my face pushed into my pillow and unable to breathe.

(I’ve actually managed to find something worse than sleep paralysis. Yay, me!)

Most of the other ‘cures’ revolve around the same idea; move something, anything, and you’ll break the paralysis.

This one did actually work for me for a long time. If I stayed calm and focused on moving, say, a finger or a toe, then as soon as it twitched I could move the rest of my body again.

Unfortunately, this stopped working after a while as my brain decided to play an even meaner trick on me. In short, I’d wake up paralysed but nothing would work to break the paralysis because I wouldn’t actually be awake.

Yup, my sleep paralysis has evolved to the point where I now have dreams within dreams whereby I think I wake up with sleep paralysis, but I’m actually still asleep. So nothing works to stop it.

It’s like an even-more-confusing version of Inception.

And if anybody has got a cure for that, I’m all ears…

Sleep Paralysis and, um, the Evening Standard

Ok, so the good news is that the London Evening Standard printed my letter about sleep paralysis.

The bad news?

snm evening standard letter

They edited the vast majority of it, and also removed the name of the book I tried to crowbar into it.

I mean, come on people, what kind of free publicity is this?!*

For anybody that is interested in what I originally wrote, here it is in full…..

Having suffered from sleep paralysis for years, I’m glad to see some awareness is being raised of this horrible condition.
It was only while researching sleep paralysis for a novel I wrote that I realised how prevalent it actually is, having been reported as a phenomena in just about every culture throughout history.
In Fiji, it is known by a term which translates as ‘eaten by a demon’; in China, ‘ghost pressing down on the body’; and in Nigeria, ‘nocturnal warfare’.
The most common explanation is that – crudely put – our brains paralyse us when we sleep so we don’t act out our dreams, but sometimes we get ‘stuck’ in that state for a while.
Not much of a consolation, I’ll admit, but at least if more people are aware of it they’ll know they’re not alone when/if it happens.
Angelo Marcos, author of Sleep No More
http://www.angelomarcos.com

 

*At least they didn’t call me ‘Angela’ I suppose, which happens surprisingly often.

Even over the phone…

Involuntary actions

SleepWalking blog post 2

One night in 1987, Kenneth Parks drove fifteen miles to his in-laws’ house.

He parked his car outside, walked up to the house, and broke in through a window. He then seriously assaulted his father-in-law, and fatally stabbed his mother-in-law. After this attack, he got back in his car, drove to a police station, and confessed to what he had done.  He was subsequently charged with both murder and attempted murder, and, after a lengthy trial, was acquitted on all counts.

He wasn’t found guilty for one simple reason – he was asleep at the time of the attack.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too when I first came across this case. That Parks was using the ‘I was asleep, guv’ defence which would turn out to be nothing but a desperate attempt to get away with murder. However, as it turned out, no less than five neurological experts testified that they believed he was asleep at the time of the attack.

Let me rephrase that, five separate experts, who spend their lives investigating neurological problems, issues and phenomena, swore under oath – essentially staking not only their reputations but also their liberty (perjury, anyone?) – that they believed Kenneth Parks was asleep at the time of the assault and killing.

And as if that wasn’t strange enough, Kenneth Parks’ defence – automatism – had already been used before this case, and has also been used since.

Automatism

The automatism defence essentially states that a person accused of a crime was not aware of their actions at the time of the incident. Their actions are deemed to have been involuntary, which then means they cannot be culpable.

There are even two different types of automatism; the first is called ‘insane automatism’ which is considered to be caused by a ‘disease of the mind’. Committing crimes while asleep falls under this category.

Then there is ‘non-insane automatism’, which is considered to be caused by external factors, so for instance through mixing certain medications with alcohol which then cause the person to act involuntarily.

Automatism cases are thankfully very rare, and plenty of people have tried and failed to use this as a defence for crimes they have committed, but there have certainly been some strange cases which do appear to be genuine.

Tragedy

Another tragic case is that of Brian Thomas, who for fifty years suffered from horrific night terrors. One night he dreamt that he and his wife were being attacked and that he had to fight to save her. In actual fact he wasn’t saving his wife, he was strangling her as she slept. He woke up to find his wife dead, and came to the horrific conclusion that he had been the one that killed her. Just like Kenneth Parks, Thomas was cleared of murder, although I imagine this was little consolation to either of these poor men.

Then there’s the case of Jules Lowe, who beat his 83 year old father to death, inflicting over 85 injuries. Again, he claimed to have been asleep at the time of the incident, and again, this was met with the initial disbelief that you would expect. However, the court accepted the automatism defence, concluding that he had been sleepwalking at the time and so was not aware of what he was doing.

And this isn’t just a recent affliction either.

In the 19th century, a French detective named Robert Ledru was tasked with investigating the murder of a man named Andre Monet, who had been shot and killed on a beach at Le Havre. There were only two real pieces of evidence to use – the killer’s footprints, and the type of bullet he used.

The footprints were very distinctive, as the killer was missing the big toe on his right foot. Ledru found this information incredible, as he himself also suffered from this same affliction. Thinking back to the morning after Monet died, Ledru also realised that he had woken up with strangely wet socks.

(I’m sure you can see where this is going…)

Ledru also discovered that the killer used the same types of bullets as he himself used. Putting the evidence together, he could come to only one conclusion – that he had killed Monet, while asleep.

His colleagues were sceptical – to say the least – and decided to carry out an experiment. They kept Ledru in a cell overnight so as to observe whether he would sleepwalk. As it turns out, he did, although this obviously didn’t prove he was capable of murder.

So the next day, the police officers placed a gun in his cell, and then observed him again. That night, Ledru fell asleep, walked around the cell, then picked up the gun and started firing at the officers.

(I imagine at this point the officers were wondering why they thought it was necessary to actually load the gun…)

It was eventually decided that even though it appeared Ledru had killed Andre Monet, he couldn’t be considered responsible for the death. So instead of being imprisoned, he was exiled to the country. He lived there for the rest of his life, albeit in the company of both guards and nurses. Who presumably either slept during the day, or wore Kevlar every night.

Comedy

There are also less tragic and – let’s give it a name – actually pretty funny cases.

One guy repeatedly gets up in the middle of the night and starts painting in his sleep. He does this so regularly and prolifically that he’s even been given a nickname – ‘Kipasso’.

Another guy once woke up in the early hours of the morning and found himself in his garden, having just mowed his entire lawn.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was completely naked at the time too.

Then there’s the lady who gets out of bed in the middle of the night and sleep-gorges on both food and, well, non-food (Vaseline, paint, washing powder). She also regularly cooks in her sleep using her gas oven and hobs. So this one is kind of funny, but also potentially kind of horrific…

One of the strangest of the ‘funny’ cases is that of the nurse who, one night in January 2003, left her house wearing only her nightshirt, crashed her car, urinated in the street, and then got into a fight with the police officers who, some might say unsurprisingly, took exception to her behaviour. In her case the prosecutors only partly accepted the automatism defence though, and she eventually pleaded guilty to a highly reduced charge of careless driving.

So what is going on?

Ordinarily, our brains paralyse our bodies as we sleep so as to prevent us from acting out our dreams/nightmares. This paralysis can itself go wrong at times however, so as bad as acting out your dreams/nightmares is, waking up and not being able to move or breathe properly is pretty horrific too (as anyone who has suffered sleep paralysis – myself included – can attest to). Generally speaking though, the fact that our brains stop us acting out our dreams as we sleep is usually a good thing, and helps to keep both us and other people in the room/property/world safe.

The current view on this is that this type of sleepwalking happens when the brain tries to transition from a certain type of sleep (known as deep non-REM slow wave sleep) to full wakefulness. What happens is that the brain gets caught up between the sleep state and the wake state, and then – to coin a phrase – ‘hilarity ensues’.

The explanation for sleep paralysis is actually quite similar in that the current understanding is that the brain gets ‘stuck’ between two states, and causes the sleeper to not be fully awake but not be fully asleep either. So it’s a similar problem but causes a very different outcome.

(cough)

I actually wrote a psychological thriller based around sleep paralysis, which you can find out about here.

(cough)

Back to the point, what all these cases undoubtedly show is that our brains are both amazing and amazingly complex, with even the smallest deviation in our sleep processes causing things to go from ‘normal’ to ‘odd’ to ‘potentially criminal’ in mere seconds. Poor old Ledru – and, I guess, even poorer old Monet – are testament to that.

The really scary part is, if any of us are ever afflicted by this phenomenon, we won’t actually know about it until we wake up again. At which point we may well find ourselves either handcuffed in the back of a police car, or breaking into a DIY store looking for some paint to eat…