Before science and technology, people would try to explain things the best that they could. Quite often, those explanations involve the supernatural. The folklore of practically every culture came about in this way. They amazing part of folklore, is that regardless of where in the world the lore originate, the stories are very similar to each other.
An Alp is a supernatural being from German folklore. Sometimes compared to a vampire, it was said that the behavior of an Alp was more along the lines of an incubus. The difference between these creatures and the Alp is the presence of a hat called a Tarnkappe from which the Alp draws its power. Through the generation there have been many versions of the Alp, but throughout the lore, the creature is most closely associated with nightmares.
In the post-medieval version of the folklore, an Alp will attack at night and control the dreams of their victims, usually women, creating the most horrible nightmares that can ever be imagined. The Alp will sit on top of the victims chest becoming heavier until the crushing weight causes the woman to wake terrified and breathless and unable to move under the weight of the creature. This folklore story may be an early explanation for conditions such as sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, or night terrors.
The Alp is not the only creature that attacks someone who is sleeping.
The Night Hag is a creature from various people’s lore that similarly tried to explain sleep paralysis. The Hag will also sit on its victims chest or the foot of the bed causing nightmares.
In Scandinavia, a mare is a supernatural creature that was a woman who was cursed and her body carried away while she was sleeping. She would then visit others in her village, and just as the Alp, sit on their rib cage causing extreme nightmares.
Very similar creature can be found throughout the world. In Turkey, they are called a Jinn. In Thailand, it is a ghost known as Phi Am. In Chinese culture, sleep paralysis is known as guǐ yā shēn or guǐ yā chuáng which is literally translated into “ghost pressing on body” or ghost pressing on bed”. There are very similar translations all over eastern Asia including Japan and Korea.
The list of creatures that attack people while they sleep comes from every area of the world and the list is practically endless.
Night-time creatures are prevalent for a number of reasons. First, as described, folklore was used to explain away medical conditions that were not understood at the time. These creatures continue to be frightening today since they attack when we are at our most vulnerable, when we are asleep. The Nightmare on Elm Street series has Freddy Krueger attack his victims while they are sleeping.
The idea of monsters under the bed at night is one that has even made it into children’s movies and books. Monster’s Inc. centers on two monsters employed at the titular energy-producing factory Monsters, Inc. — top scarer James P. “Sulley” Sullivan and his one-eyed partner and best friend Mike Wazowski. In the film, employees at Monsters, Inc. generate their city’s power by scaring children at night! The children’s book called “I Need my Monster”, by Amanda Knoll, which is a unique take on the monster under the bed story which teaches kids that things that are frightening do not necessarily have to be if you keep your humor.
In the end, whether we are reading a frightening story or watching a movie that will keep us up at night, or you visit the Chamber of Horrors for the fright of your live, just like Ethan, the boy in the book, if you keep your humor about things, the frights have no power over you.