Well. This was inevitable.
I'm trying to keep myself in study mode for my board exams, but I KNEW sooner or later I'd learn something I'd feel compelled to share with you guys.
So I take a brief break from studying nonstop to tell you about a disease called Ondine's Curse (more correctly called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome).
It's an extremely rare medical condition in which some sufferers can only breath voluntarily.
Meaning...if they fall sleep, they don't breathe enough and can die.
How can that be, you ask? Well, in the congenital form in infants, it can be fatal. It's so rare, doctors don't usually look for it. But in adults, it's caused by an auto accident, stroke, or neurosurgical complication to the centers of the brain that control breathing. They often need to use a ventilator machine to breath at night or an electronic pacer device to zap their diaphragm muscle into helping them breathe. Certain medications can also help.
The name Ondine's Curse comes from a German myth. Ondine was a water nymph in love with a mortal man. She gave up her immortality when she fell in love with him and bore him a child. He had promised, "Every waking breath will be a testament to my love for you."
When he became unfaithful, she cursed him—if he ever fell asleep, his breath would be taken from him and he would die. Eventually, from exhaustion, the man did fall asleep. And he succumbed to the curse.
Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice! (See sidebar disclaimer)
If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
This is edited to add...this disease and blog post inspired me to write my first published book, CONTROL. See the tab above on CCHS/Ondine's Curse to learn even more!