What is bangungot?
At least once, you might have heard someone say, “Binangungot ako kagabi.” Of course, we immediately understand that they had a terrifying dream that night. However, we need to clarify that a nightmare is different from bangungot. People wake up from nightmares. In fact, they usually jerk awake because of them.
The same cannot be said for bangungot–a phenomenon wherein a person mysteriously dies in their sleep. According to reports, bangungot causes the patient to “rise and moan” during their sleep. This rising (bangon) and moaning (ungol) is where bangungot gets its name.
Because of the lack of scientific study, doctors and scientists refer to bangungot as Sudden and Unexplained Death in Sleep (SUDS) or Sudden Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS).
Bangungot in Filipino Folklore
Of course, Filipinos have attached a folkloric explanation for bangungot.
According to stories, a batibat is the cause of bangungot. A batibat is a large, female demon that lives in trees. If you disturb her house by using the tree as a support or a bedpost, she will sit on your face while you’re sleeping and suffocate you. The only way to get the batibat off your face is to move your big toe or thumb.
Scientific theories for what causes bangungot
Folklore aside, what are the possible scientific explanations for bangungot?
Perhaps the most famous theory is that acute pancreatitis causes bangungot. This theory is based on various autopsy reports of people who died of SUDS.
Acute pancreatitis (AP) happens when the pancreas suddenly become severely swollen. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach and produces digestive enzymes. Medical experts highlight that acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening, as it can result in tissue death, and cause multi-organ failure due to sepsis or severe infection. Furthermore, a severe case of acute pancreatitis can also cause severe bleeding (hemorrhage). In this situation, the body can go into shock due to blood loss.