- Nyam Chiem

Nyam Chiem (Nightmare) 2015.

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We all hallucinate but there is something about nighttime hallucination that feels real and almost like a connection to a world beyond our comprehension.

Nyam Chiem (NightMare) 2015:


This paper is a documentation of a practice-based dance work of the creative process, research and performance presentation of the piece Nyam chiem. This thesis examines the phenomenon of sleep paralysis through personal reflexive research. The research is in two parts; practical and theory. The practical component includes; dance rehearsal processes, performance and staging of the piece as presentation. The theory component includes the documentation of the work in a written format capturing personal stories, and salient issues arising from the process in a scholarly paper. This work challenges the notion that sleep paralysis is evil, revealing the phenomenon as a normal part of the human experience.

I am concerned with both philosophical and biomedical research in psychology, and how that translates to dance making. But the perspective from which I write is autobiographical Conversely, I use the personal pronoun “I” to acknowledge that the bone of autobiographical research is reflexive practice.

Research questions:

1. In a personal autobiographical research, how does sleep paralysis intersect with my dance creation?
2. How can I translate my experiences and autobiographical research of sleep paralysis to a dance creation?
3. What can sleep paralysis be a metaphor of and might that have meaning for others who experience my work?

What brought me to this research?

I have suffered from sleep paralysis all my life. It has been both embarrassing and a stigmatic experience for me while growing up, mostly because from the community where I’m from, sleep paralysis is seen as evil; the sufferer is demonized.


There are so many definitions about what sleep paralysis is. Different disciplines and cultures see the phenomenon differently. Scientists have defined it using the scientific methods, and individual cultures have also described it from their worldviews and philosophical methods.

I particularly relate to James Allan Cheyne’s definition of sleep paralysis and his works on the subject as well. Cheyne defines sleep paralysis as:

A brief paralysis experienced when falling asleep or waking up. It is often accompanied by vivid imagery and extreme fear. In addition to the fear during episodes, people often report marked distress following the episode (Cheyne, Pennycook 2013, 16).

Cheyne and Pennycook further examine sleep paralysis as:

A brief pre- or postdormital paralysis often, but not always, accompanied by vivid sensory and perceptual experiences, including complex hallucinations (called hypnagogic hallucinations when occurring predormitally and hypnopompic when occurring postdormital) and, almost invariably, intense fear.  (Cheyne, Pennycook 2013, 16).

Despite the general paralysis during SP episodes, there are eye movements and continued automatic breathing, though the inability to breathe voluntarily may produce feelings of pressure on the chest and suffocation. SP can range from a once-in-a-lifetime experience to a recurring phenomenon consisting of frequent episodes occurring in bouts with nightly or multiple nightly episodes.  (Cheyne, Newly-Clark and Rueffer, 1999, 8: 313-318).

Photo: C. Stanley, 2015. - Dancer: Jonathan Jhsu

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