A Different Sleep

I have the same experience over and over again at night. I awake, but I cannot move. I can see the room and I know I should be able to get up out of my bed, but I am completely paralyzed. And, without missing a beat, something is in the room with me and it is coming towards me. It is never anything pleasant like a unicorn or rainbows with pots of gold. No – it is almost always a horror-invoking being like a giant spider or a menacing creature intent on doing me harm.

I close my eyes and tell myself that this is sleep paralysis and what I am seeing is not real. And I tell myself that my body’s inability to move will soon pass. I repeat this almost like a mantra until I can actually move and my hallucinations evaporate into the room.

a bed in a dark room with a
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

I am part of the less than 8% of the population which experiences sleep paralysis. Luckily, I understand what is happening to my body and brain and I don’t fear it. Many people throughout history and cultures have been terrorized by the experience and have created superstitious beliefs to explain such a frightening phenomenon. When I was a child, I used to think ghosts and aliens were coming into my room and causing these incidents. It wasn’t until I was older and diagnosed with sleep paralysis that I understood there was a biological basis for my experience.

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder caused by areas of the brainstem not operating properly upon waking. During REM (dream state sleep), the brain paralyzes the body so that you do not physically act out dreams. Dreaming of running through a field may be liberating, but actually getting up and running in your bedroom while dreaming is a recipe for injury. Upon awaking, the brainstem will allow the muscles to move again and the person will become conscious. For people with sleep paralysis, the brainstem does not realize we are awake, so our bodies continue to be paralyzed and dream in a half-awake/half-asleep state.

Sleep paralysis is only one of many sleep disorders that people suffer from. Some of the more common sleep disorders include:

  • Insomnia: inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Sleep Apnea: disrupted breathing while sleeping which causes frequent awakenings that the person does not remember
  • Narcolepsy: excessive, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness that causes the patient to fall asleep in the middle of an activity
  • Sleepwalking: walking or engaging in physical activity while asleep

Naturally, with so many people experiencing sleep disorders, many scientists and doctors study the area of sleep medicine. This subspecialty of medicine grew reapidly in the 20th century as scientists learned more about the sleep/wake cycle and the brain functions that control the process. The late 20th century saw the introduction of sleep labs and observation clinics to help diagnose and treat these sleep disturbances.

kate-stone-matheson-uy5t-CJuIK4-unsplash
Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

If you would like to learn more about sleep disorders and sleep medicine, the Touro College Libraries have the following resources available for you to explore:

This post was contributed by Annette Carr, Librarian at the School of Health Sciences at Bay Shore

References

American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). (2020). Retrieved from https://aasm.org/

Felson, S. (2018). Sleep paralysis. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-paralysis

Lanese, N. (2019). Sleep paralysis: Causes, symptoms & treatment. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/50876-sleep-paralysis.html

Sleep disorders. (2020). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/sleepdisorders.html

An Uninvited Guest: What is the “Murder Hornet”?

So far, the year 2020 has turned out to be a bust, between the coronavirus, lockdown and quarantine, and a looming recession. As if we did not have enough to be concerned about, we now have new reports of a “murder hornet” entering the United States and setting up home here.

close of up a murder hornet
Male murder hornet. Photo by Yasunori Koide. CC-BY-SA 4.0.

The description of the murder hornets is quite frightening. At one-and-a-half to two inches long, the murder hornet has huge jaws that decapitate honeybees and a nasty stinger that can sting a human repeatedly. The sting to a human has been compared to feeling like a hot nail is being driven into one’s skin. And protection from their stinger is useless since even the protective suits that beekeepers wear is no match for the murder hornet: their quarter-inch stingers can drill right through it.

If this is a vision that gives you nightmares, I am here to clarify some of the facts and cut through the drama around our new — and unwelcome — guests. It seems the murder hornet is not as much of a horror show as it seems.

The murder hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is a common insect in Asia, where it is called the “giant hornet.” It is thought that a single murder hornet queen entered Canada via a cargo container from Asia and started a colony that was discovered in 2019. After the colony was spotted, scientists and government officials made efforts to destroy the colony during the winter months when the hornet hibernates. No other colonies have been discovered in the U.S. or Canada so far. Two dead murder hornets were spotted and collected in the state of Washington in December 2019, which has raised the odds that another colony may exist, but so far, none have been discovered. However, even if another colony does exist, scientists are unsure if the murder hornet will spread beyond the Pacific Northwest. It seems that the murder hornet cannot take extreme heat or cold weather. It has adapted to live in a very temperate climate, one that is common in the Pacific Northwest, but it is unlikely to thrive in other climates in North America. Therefore, the murder hornet is not likely to become a full-scale invasion.

What about the dangers to humans? Although the murder hornet can pack a nasty sting, their sting poses no more of a danger to humans than a honeybee sting. More people in the U.S. die from honeybee stings than people in Japan die from the murder hornet’s sting. The sting is painful, but the pain tends to subside in a few days. People who are allergic to bee stings should seek medical treatment if they are stung. Most importantly, it should be noted that murder hornets tend to keep to themselves and do not bother humans unless provoked. They will defend their hives from an attack like any social insect, but they are no more prone to attacking humans than any other hive insect.

full body picture of muder hornet
Male murder hornet. Photo by Yasunori Koide. CC-BY-SA 4.0.

The bigger concern is how the murder hornet will affect honeybee colonies if they take hold in the Pacific Northwest. The European honeybee, which is known for its very docile and defenseless nature, is the main bee used to pollinate crops in North America. Whereas other species of bees, particularly those in Asia that live among the murder hornet, will often kill a hornet if it enters their hive, the European Honeybee has no inclination. They are therefore vulnerable to having their hives overtaken by murder hornets that will decapitate them and keep them as a food source, so it is imperative that beekeepers use traps to protect their honeybee colonies from the hornets. Beekeepers are also taking steps to keep more defensive species of honeybees among their colonies who will defend their hives against murder hornets if they do invade the colony.

The saga of the murder hornet will continue . . .

This post was contributed by Annette Carr, Librarian at the School of Health Sciences at Bay Shore

References

Bernstein, J. (2020). Murder hornets invade headlines, not the U.S. Retrieved from https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2020/05/06/murder-hornets-invade-headlines-not-us

Embry, P. (2020). Just how dangerous is the ‘murder hornet’? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-how-dangerous-is-the-murder-hornet/

Fox, A. (2020). No, Americans do not need to panic about ‘murder hornets’. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/invasion-murder-hornets-180974809/

Kawahara, A. Y. (2020). What are Asian giant hornets, and are they really dangerous? 5 questions answered. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/what-are-asian-giant-hornets-and-are-they-really-dangerous-5-questions-answered-137954