Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome: Death by Nightmare

Updated: Aug 4

By: Nellie Nguyen


Our slumbers are occasionally disturbed by troubling nightmares that leave us in a cold sweat the following morning. The sudden awakening after a terrifying dream is often relieving—a jolt that serves as a reminder that there is no real danger. Unfortunately, the “sudden awakening” never arrived for some Southeast Asian men, and they gave their final breaths during their slumber. Dying from a dream sounds like something taken straight from the plot of a horror movie, like Freddy Krueger and the film series A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, the creator of the infamous horror franchise claimed to have been inspired by a frighteningly real incident: dozens of unexplained “nightmare deaths” of refugees from the Hmong ethnic group.


Image Credit: Flicker @ 光头人

It is commonly known as sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS), though different countries use different terms to describe these events; in the Philippines, it is called “bangungut” and in Japan, it is called “pokkuri.” The general translation for these terms usually means the same thing, which is “nightmare death.” Since April 1983, there have only been around 130 victims of the fatal disorder, all of them with relatively similar fundamental individual traits. Reported victims seemed to only be a part of certain Asian populations, including Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. All of the victims were young, healthy men, mostly in thei