Sleep Myth: The Batibat
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Sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) is the term for a specific cardiac event that goes by many names. In the Philippines, it’s known as bangungot. It describes the sudden — and curious — death of healthy young people, often male, who die while they’re sleeping. Even more curious, postmortem routine autopsy cannot explain these deaths. The first description of SUNDS came in 1917 in the Philippines. It was later reported on in 1981 in the New York Times. Filipino folklore has long attributed this downright spooky phenomenon to the batibat, an evil creature that manipulates its victims in their dream states and causes suffocation.
What Is a Batibat?
Filipino folklore describes the batibat as ancient, obese, female demons who live in trees. If you have the misfortune of cutting down one of their trees and using it as a support post for your home, watch out — the batibat will follow in spirit form. Batibats forbid humans from sleeping near their homes and will attack those who unknowingly do so. As the legend goes, the batibat will reveal her true, enormous form, cast a terrifying nightmare, and sit on her victim’s chest until they suffocate. According to lore, the batibat is so enormous and heavy, not even the biggest, burliest man could survive.
The Legend of the Batibat
Tales about the batibat and bangungot get a little mixed. Some stories, often from Ilocano descent, attribute bangungot, or SUNDS, to the batibat. Others, typically from Tagalog descent, use the terms themselves interchangeably. The word “batíbat” comes from the Ilocano word for nightmare. Bangungot is derived from “bangun,” which means rising, and “ungu,” which means moaning. According to legend, bangungot causes its victims to “rise and moan” as they sleep.
There are a few scientific explanations for SUNDS. One is that these victims are actually suffering from acute pancreatitis. Many of the victims who have died from SUNDS reportedly consumed excessive amounts of starchy foods and alcohol before going to bed — a scenario that can cause the pancreas to fail.
Another potential explanation is Brugada syndrome, a condition that affects the heart and can lead to breathing issues, fainting, and sudden death — complications that often happen when the patient is at rest or asleep.
For those who believe it’s an obese, vengeful spirit, there is a way to ward her away. Should you find yourself in a nightmare feeling short of breath or like you’re being smothered, bite your thumb or wiggle your toes. Either is said to break the Batibat’s spell over you and release you from the nightmare.
Is a Batibat Good or Evil?
The batibat is consistently portrayed as an evil spirit. Her revenge is swift and merciless if you disturb her home.
Modern Portrayals of the Batibat
Modern portrayals of the batibat follow the legend pretty faithfully. A horror movie called Evil Takes Root: The Curse of the Batibat features a paranormal investigator whose former lover is killed by a batibat that followed her home from the Philippines.
In the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a batibat also makes an appearance, though there is a little creative license. In episode “Dreams in a Witch House,” a demonic batibat is accidentally released from a puzzle and tortures the family in their dreams.
The Last Word from Sleepoolis
Folklore and mythology have long served as explanations for the unexplained. The unexpected death of an otherwise healthy young man would have raised many questions, especially if it wasn’t an isolated tragedy. In the absence of a confirmed medical answer, perhaps an angry, enormous spirit seeking revenge through suffocation made more sense than the unknown. However the legend began, the batibat is intimately tied to bangungot and SUNDS. Best to remember how to save yourself if she ever makes a nighttime visit.