This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
Night-mare will sometimes attack the healthiest person when any indigestible food happens to be in his stomach during sleep; but a peculiar habit of body is necessary to render a person liable to it. Those of a contemplative disposition, and of that particular temperament which disposes to hypochondriasis and other nervous diseases, are very subject to its attacks. Sedentary employments, confinement within doors, literary studies, anxiety of mind, etc., all predispose to visitations of Night-mare. Sailors have been observed to be very liable to this disease. Hypochondriacs and pregnant women are also its victims, but the male sex more frequently than the female. In advanced life it is not often met with, except where corpulency, asthma, or a tendency to lethargy exists.
The disease always attacks during sleep: if this be heavy, the first approach of the disorder is usually in the shape of a disagreeable dream. The patient imagines himself exposed to some danger, or pursued by an enemy whom he finds it impossible to avoid. Ho frequently feels as if his limbs were tied, or deprived of motion; at other times he fancies himself confined at the bottom of a cavern or vault, and in danger of suffocation. This is often the whole of the sensation which the disease produces, when it goes off either by an oblivious sleep or dream. Here the Night-mare is not fully formed, but only a predisposition to it is shown.
When the paroxysm actually takes place, the uneasiness of the patient in his dream rapidly increases, till it ends in a kind of consciousness that he is in bed and asleep; but he feels oppressed with some weight which confines him on his back and prevents his breathing, which is now become extremely laborious, so that the lungs cannot be fully inflated by any effort he can make. The sensation is now the most painful that can be conceived: the person becomes every instant more awake and conscious of his situation; he makes violent efforts to move his limbs, especially his arms, with the view of throwing off the incumbent weight, but not a muscle can he move; he groans aloud, if he has power to do it, while every effort he makes seems to exhaust the little strength remaining to him. The difficulty of breathing goes on increasing, so that almost every breath he draws seems likely to be his last; the heart generally moves with increased velocity, sometimes is affected with palpitations; the countenance appears ghastly, and the eyes half open. Sometimes there is such a weight and oppression felt, as to lead the sufferer to imagine that some living thing has taken up its position, and is sitting on his chest. The patient, if left to himself, lies in this state generally about a minute or two, when he recovers all at once the power of motion, upon which he either jumps out of bed, or instantly changes his position, so as to awake himself thoroughly. If this be not done, the paroxysm is very apt to return immediately, as the inclination to sleep is almost irresistible, and if yielded to, another paroxysm of Night-mare is almost certain to occur.
When the disease is established, some confusion of the head, singing in the ears, and substances floating before the eyes, will often remain for a time after being roused. There is often, also, a sense of weight at the stomach, an unpleasant taste in the mouth, acceleration of the pulse, and palpitation of the heart.
When the paroxysm goes off, as frequently happens, without the patient awaking, strange fancies are occasionally produced, which give origin to reputed visions and supernatural visitations, even among people of great intellectual cultivation. The degree of consciousness, during a paroxysm of Night-mare, is so much greater than ever happens in a dream, that the person who has had a vision of this kind cannot easily bring himself to acknowledge the deceit, unless he awakes out of his paroxysm, and finds some inconsistency in respect to time or place which proves the transaction to be an illusion.
The complaint seems to be altogether dependent on a state of indigestion, and is usually accompanied with a distension of the stomach and bowels, by wind, constipation, and acid eructations; we must therefore pay attention to the state of the stomach and bowels. The patient may take the Tonic Mixture, No. 11, three times a day, adding to each half-pint thereof, two drams of bi-carbonate of soda. He may also take two of the Cathartic Pills, No. 4, every night at bedtime.
Persons subject to Night-mare ought carefully to avoid all kinds of food likely to prove difficult of digestion, particularly at supper; they should live temperately; should take plenty of exercise, and go to bed early. They should also, till they have lost the tendency to be disturbed, always have some person to sleep near them, so as to be immediately awakened by their groans and struggles; for the sooner a person is roused from a paroxysm of the Night-mare the better, as, when in a high degree, it differs little from a fit of Epilepsy. Where medicine is not at hand, a glass of any cordial will frequently dispel flatulence, and prevent the attack.
Acidities in the stomach are productive of the worst species of dreams, and nothing will so effectually prevent and remove such crudities as a little of the Carbonate of Magnesia, mixed in Peppermint Water, and taken at bedtime.