Rants & Essays

Sleep Lab Ghost - Part 1

By R. Patrick Murtha

In the Fall of 1976, Dr. V, a professor of experimental psychology at CSU Sacramento, finally got funding from the Nat. Institute of Mental Health for a pet project he'd wanted to conduct for quite some time. As his Teacher's Assistant and leader of the Lab section, I was charged with conducting the night to night operation of the experiment. We were testing Dr. V's theory of Temporal Regressiveness. The theory states that the time reference of dreams is related to the body's core temperature, and to test this theory we were to affect the body's temperature by the use of alcohol and so should see a shift in the temporal regressive reference of dream reports since alcohol has a predictable affect on the body's temperature. It had already been seen that the first two REM periods contained dominant references to events that had taken place in the immediate past of the dreamer. The middle REM periods of the night then integrates these near-past memories with memories further and further back in the sleeper's past, until in the last two REM periods of the night all these memories are then integrated into what is anticipated to occur in the next few days in the sleeper's life experiences. Since we knew that alcohol is a body temperature suppressant, it was theorized that we would see dream recall from further back into the Sleeper's past earlier in the night since the body temperature would be prematurely lowered.

We started this particular night's experiment on a Friday night. The Subject for tonight's experiment was a 22 year old female; her second night in the experimental condition. She filled out the questionnaire as I applied the electrodes to her head using collodian and drank her orange juice...this time with a nonalcoholic additive that tastes of alcohol. The placebo condition, if you will. All went normally as I led her into the Anechoic chamber, plugging her into the box above the head of the bed which led into the control room and was hooked directly into the Grass Model VI EEG. After I left the vault-like sleep chamber she self-inserted the rectal temperature probe...please, no sneering. Now, there were those night's when my wife was the subject, in which case procedure was modified slightly for the insertion of the rectal probe, but that's for another newsgroup, you dirty minded people! Geeeez!

Anyway, we got her to bed at about 10:30 PM and proceeded with that night's awakening schedule. Then, at exactly 2:48 AM, I heard a commotion; the EEG needles, which just a minute before had shown a transitional but still "fast asleep" Stage 3 sleep pattern, were all of a sudden flying left and right across the scrolling paper indicating an awakening. "Oh great," I thought, "this will throw off the entire body temp readings for the night."

Then, over the intercom I heard the subject talking. "Uh...what are...huh? Who the heck are you? Are you part of the experiment? Patrick? Patrick! PAAATRIICCKK!!" and all of a sudden she was screaming out my name. I immediately hit the light switch, ran out the door and around the corner opening the door quickly as I could now hear the sleeper's screams THROUGH the otherwise soundproof vault door.

"Sh_t! What on earth is going on?!" I was saying to myself as I opened the door to reveal the Subject tearing out the electrodes from the box above the bed.

"Who was that?! Who WAS THAT?!" she was yelling and immediately ran down the hall towards the women's bathroom.

"Hey! What's wrong? Who was WHO?!" I followed. Of course at this time of night there was no one else in the building and I followed her in, consoling and trying to calm her down. She went on to describe how, while laying in bed and having a vague "thinking" type dream, (very normal report of a NonREM dream) that she immediately awoke (reason unknown) and there in the completely blackened room was the glowing apparition of an elderly woman actually luminescing as it stood next to the bed looking down on her!

Now, I'd conducted experiments for the last year and a half and this was the first time I'd ever heard anyone mention anything like this during an experiment. I was just as confused and upset as she was as I assured her that nobody came out of the door before I got there and asked her to tell me whatever else she could remember. "She was glowing from INSIDE," she began, finally settling down a bit as we walked together towards the lab. "Then, I asked her if she was supposed to be there and the light went on and I could see THROUGH her to the wall!" she sputtered. "Then, she turned, and I could see her long, flower-print dress flow as she turned. And she walked THROUGH the door out to the hall and that's when I really lost it!" she sobbed. Needless to say, we ended the experiment then and there, but that wasn't the last time this Old Lady of the Psych building showed herself; and the next time I actually saw her with my co-experimenter!

But I'll leave that one for later.