Historical story

The origins of nightmares and sleep paralysis in mythologies around the world

In this article, we will explore the world of nightmares and their causes in various mythologies and folklore. Almost every mythology around the world has some sort of explanation for the nightmares. Here, we are going to look at some of the most fascinating and strange creatures that are believed to cause nightmares. For some people these are very real, for others they are fictional stories. No matter what you believe in, it can always be good to know more about what may be lurking in the dark, right?

Some things to know first

Before we jump in, let's clear up a few things first. Mythology has been described as a collection of myths, which typically belong to a specific cultural or religious tradition. It can also be a collective term for the study of myths. Examples of mythologies include Norse, Egyptian and Aztec, although there are hundreds in the world.

Nightmares are something many people experience. They are more common in children than adults, but anyone can have them. Nightmares are described as disturbing dreams that are associated with negative emotions. The negative emotions are often anxiety and fear that can wake you up, often in cold sweat.

An important distinction between nightmares and night terrors is needed. Nightmares occur during REM sleep while night terrors occur when a person suddenly wakes up from a deep, dreamless sleep. Both nightmares and night terrors are more common in children, but can be experienced by anyone. Nightmares can often be remembered when the person has woken up, but screams and flames that are often seen with night terrors are not remembered.

Hopper, Scandinavian Mythology

The mare, often seen in Germanic mythology, has been described as an elf or evil spirit. This creature sits on the breasts of sleeping people and causes them to have nightmares. The earliest mention of Mares dates back to the 13th century in Ynglinga Saga. In the saga King Vanlandi Sveigðisson of Uppsala was killed by a Mara after the creature was summoned by the sorceress Huld.

Not only do Mares ride in the coffins of sleeping people, but they also 'ride' on horses. When a mare rides a horse, the animal is covered in sweat and exhausted in the morning. Furthermore, it has been said that mares have the ability to tangle both hair and animals. This resulted in the victim having 'marelocks', or as we call it today, Polish braiding phenomenon. The victim's hair would tangle so severely that it became like dreadlocks, dull and often sticky. Humans and animals are not the only victims of mares. Trees can also fall victim to the creatures, resulting in tangled and twisted branches.

Jumps, in one form or another, appear in many different folk tales. In Romania they are known as Moroi and in Slavic countries the term Mora is often used. Some varieties say that the creature is in the form of moths or hair chips, in others they are beautiful women.

How to avoid a visit from a mare?

  • It is not possible to avoid it, just hope it does not happen

Alu, Sumerian mythology

These are Babylonian spirits that can take the form of black dogs or half human half animals. However, it is generally believed that an Alû is androgynous and has no lips, mouth or ears. They are associated with other demons such as Liliu and Gallu and are known to 'attack a man's chest'. In folklore, they are seen as vengeful spirits who often visit the underworld. They lurk in the dark and seek trouble, often in street corners or ancient ruins. Often they can cause storms, illness and of course nightmares just by being in one place. The name Alû can be considered a synonym for 'demon', even if the name translates to 'storm' or 'storm'.

To cause nightmares, the very presence of an Alû may be enough. If it is not, the creature will press down on the victim. Sometimes the creature will go so far as to suck out the sleeping breath to evoke the nightmare. Not only are these creatures capable of causing terrible nightmares when they enter your home, but they are known to cause sleep paralysis and even coma.

How to avoid a visit from an Alû?

  • Do not walk around at night, Alû will follow you home

Pisadeira, Brazilian Mythology

Pisadeira has been described as an old crown with long, claw-like nails and long, messy hair. At night she often lurks on the roof looking for victims. In more rural areas of Brazil, rumor has it that Pisadeira is a fat Afro-Brazilian humanoid. Appearance may not matter so much, as the creature will still do the same thing - cause nightmares. She will find a victim with a full stomach and step on them while they sleep and evoke disturbing dreams.

In northeastern Brazil, near the São Francisco River, there is another Pisadeira variety. Here she is wearing a red hood, but otherwise has the same physical appearance. Much like jinn, if you are able to steal her cap, she will give you a wish in return for it.

How to avoid a visit to Pisadeira?

  • Do not overeat before going to bed.
  • Do not sleep on your back

Sandman, Scandinavian Mythology


The Sandman has been a well-known European entity for hundreds of years. He goes to children while they sleep and sprinkles dust over their eyes to make good dreams come true. Or does he? Folklore says that the Sandman as we know him may have an evil brother, who happens to have the same name. This version of Sandman is not cute or kind, but will lurk in the darkest corners and wait for you to fall asleep. He will sing tickle, tick like an old grandfather's bell and send you into a deep sleep.

Once you have slept, this sandman will eat you. Other stories say that he will throw sand in the eyes of children who do not want to sleep, so that they fall out and he will collect them. The eyes of his victims will be taken with him home to the moon, where he will use them to feed his own children. This version of Sandman, instead of being a friendly face, has scary long fingers, sharp teeth and the discolored skin of a dead man.

How to avoid a visit from the evil Sandman?

  • Hope and pray that you will be visited by the king's brother who will give you good dreams.

Kikimora, Slavic Mythology

Kikimora; credit:wikipedia

Kikimora may be Mare's sunken cousin. This creature comes from Slavic folklore and has been thought to be one of the most terrifying. She, usually with her husband, a Domovi, lives in a house unwanted. These creatures live in houses where children may be buried under the house or could have just died. They can also represent the mother's accidents such as abortion or be there due to the death of an unbaptized child. According to lore, the appearance of Kikimoras can vary considerably. Sometimes they can be terribly deformed little women or beautiful virgins, usually with a long braid. Whether they are beautiful or deformed, the stories say that they all have a kind of physical deformity, such as bird extremities or hooves. They are almost never seen, but can be heard under floorboards, in attics or behind stoves.

The creature is mischievous, often leaving footprints around the house and disturbing those who live in the home. These creatures are blamed for causing nightmares, sleep paralysis and even for food that destroys overnight. Everyone who lives in the same house as a Kikimora will feel haunted, and as if eyes are always looking at them. The faint but noticeable sounds that rumble under the floor or over your head will never allow you to feel calm again.

How do you avoid living in the same house as a Kikimora?

  • Do research and make sure no child has died inside the house
  • Find out if previous tenants have had miscarriages on the property
  • Do everything you can to ensure that no dead children's bodies are buried under the house

Nocnitsa, Slavic Mythology

Nocnitsa, also known as Plasky, Kriksy, Night Hag or Night Maiden, are powerful entities in Slavic and Russian folklore. They have the power to use other creatures such as Nightmare or Nue to reach goals. A Nocnitsa will often torment those who are in places of power, such as kings and other powerful leaders. They will appear to people in their dreams and destroy them, making them exhausted and feeling pain. Unlike other creatures in the dream world, a Nocnitsa can kill you dreams as they only live in the dream world and have no physical form. However, this also means that they themselves are capable of being killed. To kill a Nocnitsa, a powerful dreamer is needed to defeat the creature. If you are able to kill one of these creatures, their body will become a cocoon, of which a Shtriga will hatch.

To avoid a visit from a Nocnitsa:

  • Keep a stone with a hole in the middle
  • Place an iron knife under the crib
  • Draw a circle around a cradle or bed with an iron knife
  • Find a Baku to swallow the nightmare (they are rare because Nocnitsa chases them)

Avoid nightmares, according to traditions around the world

Everyone wants to avoid nightmares, so what if there are ways to do it? These methods may not work in all nightmares, but may be worth a try if you often have bad dreams. Some of these methods may seem strange, but keep an open mind. It may be that the most unexpected can help you get a better night's sleep.


Dreamcatchers or 'Sacred Hoops' are a well-known symbol of Native American culture. They are made to capture bad dreams and let the good ones pass, so that the one who sleeps can enjoy them. These talismans have often been used to protect sleeping children from nightmares, but can be used by anyone if they suffer from bad dreams. Many Indians believe that the night air is full of dreams, some good and some bad. All the bad dreams captured by the dream catcher are destroyed in the morning by the sunlight.

Daily tasks according to astrology


According to those who believe in astrology, there are several things you can do to get a good night's sleep. Below are some of the most common preventative measures taken to get rid of nightmares for good.

  • Wash your feet with lukewarm water to clear your dreams
  • Hold a pack of Alum (also known as Fitkari) for a week and then burn it.
  • Apply coconut water to the forehead to give a positive result during sleep
  • Put a clove of garlic under the pillow before bed
  • Having a packet of yellow rice will also help you avoid a bad dream.
  • Have some fennel seeds in a white cloth under the pillow
  • For women, it is recommended to tie their hair properly before going to bed. Open long hair at night attracts negative energies
  • Clean the floor of the house with salt water every day.
  • Avoid having your footwear near or under the sleeping area.
  • Keep some clean water in a copper container covered with a cloth near your sleeping area.
  • Keep your head south and your feet north while you sleep.
  • Pour some water on the plants every morning to get rid of negative thoughts that may affect your day.

Other ways to prevent nightmares


Specialists say that nightmares occur during the REM cycle when sleep begins to get longer. Although we can not in reality drastically change REM, there are some things that can help. The first thing you need to do when you often experience nightmares is get a good start and sleep rhythm. In addition, exercise helps relieve stress, which increases the likelihood of having nightmares.

Some other natural remedies for nightmares include:

  • Take a warm bath before bed to help you relax
  • Drink green tea around bedtime
  • If you do not like green tea, try some warm milk
  • Do not eat sugar before bedtime, give yourself a few hours between the sugary snack and the bed
  • Do not eat too close to bedtime, you must give yourself at least half an hour between eating and sleeping
  • Try journaling before bedtime instead of watching TV or playing games on your phone
  • Do not watch scary movies before bedtime. This may affect some people more than others, but it is best to avoid them before bedtime for safety
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  • Yoga will be useful if you need to relax, try it before bedtime and even during the day
  • Try to wake up and sleep at the same time every day. We all like to sleep, but it may not always be best for our brain
  • Try not to sleep on your back. You are more likely to wake up from snoring. This has nothing to do with a demon sitting on his chest (or maybe it does?).

Is nightmare a picture of our imagination?


Do your nightmares have a meaning? Are they caused by other worldly creatures that sit on the chest or suck the breath from the lungs? Have you ever seen something lurking in your bedroom that you can not explain? Maybe our brains are really capable of doing wrong things, maybe not. We would all feel far safer if we knew that what we saw with our eyes closed was our imagination. But do we know for sure? Where do you think nightmares come from?