Monday, April 4, 2011

Medical Mondays: Death by Insomnia


I've been chatting with the lovely Erica Mitchell-Spickard about her WIP, and the topic of sleep deprivation came up.

Losing sleep isn't fun. We all have experienced it once in a while. The dark circles, irritability, and exhaustion are bad, but then we catch up with a few Zz's (or the infant finally starts sleeping through the night, ha ha).

But did you know insomnia can kill?

Fatal Familial Insomnia is an inherited disease (half of the kids who have an affected parent will inherit the gene) that manifests in middle age.

The sufferer, for no obvious reason, begins to have worsening problems with insomnia. Sleep medications actually make things worse, instead of helping the sleep come on.

During the first few months when the insomnia worsens, the person becomes paranoid, irritable, and suffers from panic attacks and phobias.

In the next few months, hallucinations set in.

By month 5-9, the insomnia becomes constant and the person rapidly loses weight.

By month 7-18, the person become demented and unresponsive, and soon dies.

What a horrible disease. Sadly there is no cure, but genetic testing is available for diagnosis. And luckily, the disease is extremely rare.

It made me think of Insomnia, by Stephen King, the sleepless wanderings of Heathcliff on the moor, and the insomnia that plagued Macbeth. Have you come by any insomniac characters lately in your reading?

Sleep tight! Don't let the bed bugs bite (eh, that's for another post. ;) ).

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.

59 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

i can't imagine what that would be like! There are nights where I couldn't sleep but nothing like insomnia would be!

KatieO said...

I had no idea... now I need to work this into a story somewhere... thanks!

lbdiamond said...

I had a patient who was quite afraid she had this disorder. She didn't, but her anxiety certainly kept her up.

I hated staying up all night for overnights...mostly because I felt so crappy the next day. Can't imagine what it's like to go months without sleeping, yikes!!!

Kelly said...

I've definitely been sleep deprived and it makes me batty! I can't imagine living with it for months and eventually dying of it. How awful!

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

That is scary! Thankfully, my poor MC isn't getting that deprived...although as you know it's not like he's doing anyone any favours with his sleep/lack thereof issues :P What an awful disease. I've had times when I wasn't able to sleep for maybe 24 hours and felt HORRID, I can't even imagine longer periods than that.

Fight Club is a good example of just how bad insomnia can become. Talk about hallucinations..WOW.

Great post as always, lovely! And thank you for your help :)

Sommer Leigh said...

I have very mild sleeping problems so I feel deeply for people with this kind of disorder. There is nothing worse than not sleeping when you know you need to sleep and the clock is ticking towards 6am when I need to hit the shower or sleep comes and goes so lightly that every half an hour I'm waking up and noticing the clock time and thinking "I'll be lucky if I get 3 interupted hours of sleep tonight."

It sucks. I don't know how I'd deal if I found out insomnia could kill me.

Sarah said...

I spend a lot of time talking to adults about how much sleep kids need and how crucial it is to their development, as well as designing behavioral interventions to get kids to fall asleep and stay asleep independently. I hadn't actually heard of this particular disorder, but it sounds utterly horrible.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Huh, how about that. I know I feel like death warmed over when I don't get my eight hours, but I never thought there'd be actual death by insomnia. What a horrible way to go.

Carol Kilgore said...

Next time I have trouble sleeping or wake in the middle of the night, I'll be thankful I don't have Fatal Familial Insomnia. How awful.

Old Kitty said...

Oh how awful!!! :-( I fall asleep at a drop of a hat so can only imagine how horrific this illness is.

Oh dear. Bed bugs in the next post!?!? Yikes!! Take care
x

Beth said...

For a minute, I thought maybe I had this! (Then I realized I have just run-of-the-mill sleeplessness.) I should never read medical syndromes!)

Elizabeth Twist said...

Wow. My partner suffers from insomnia and helped himself by reading some books that advised that while insomnia sucks, it will not kill you, and you just have to get on with your day and try to sleep again the next night. It worked for him.

I will not be directing him to this post! He doesn't need to see this!

But thanks for sharing.

vbtremper said...

Ack - you're scaring the behoosus out of me! I barely survived the infant-induced insomnia, and now I have medication-induced insomnia. Guess I'd better do something about that.

Thanks!
Vicki

Munk said...

You really hit a nerve this one Lydia, excellent post.

erinjade said...

love your medical mondays. they always make me think: "what a great premise for a book!" :)

Bossy Betty said...

I am just not working on a post about sleep! This seems like a cruel way to go!

Olga said...

Unfortunately, I have many examples of insomnia among the people in my life. I really consider it quite dangerous. One of my friends couldn't sleep for about six months. The results were really terrible for his health.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I read an article about this condition. It's so scary.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

YIKES! I have my occasional sleepless nights and can't imagine having a fatal disease that never lets you sleep. Wow. Thanks for another informative post. You amaze me.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I knew a lack of sleep could kill! I'm going back to bed right now.
And ever seen the movie Insomnia by Christopher Nolan?

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Now, you're scaring me. LOL.

As a weary rare blood courier, I live with sleep deprivation, going out on calls at all hours of the night, many times a night.

No fun the next morning when I have to put in a ten hour day!

May you get enough sleep yourself this new week, Roland

Connie said...

Wow! what a horrid disease.

Talli Roland said...

Ahhhh! Now I know I won't be able to sleep because I'll be too worried about this! I'm a terrible sleeper at the best of times.

David R. Matteri said...

This reminds me that I have Mr. King's Insomnia sitting on my shelf, but I haven't read it yet. I think I'll read it now and see if I can still sleep at night.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Wow, that’s horrible.

Melissa Gill said...

That's so interesting. Insomnia is the worst, but luckily I've never been that bad.

Heather said...

That is really interesting. I had no idea insomnia could actually kill. Though it makes sense now that I think about it. I loved Stephen King's book! Now I know where he got the idea. :)

mooderino said...

facinating stuff, although I think I'm safe from this one. Even caffeine makes me drowsy (not sure what that's called).
great post,
mood

Medeia Sharif said...

I feel so bad for people who suffer through this. I had some sleeping problems as a child, and they fortunately went away.

D. Heath said...

Sounds horrible. I've read that long term lack of sleep could also result in paranoia.
Social Science Medley

Dafeenah said...

I am a major insomniac. I can go days without sleeping or sleep only a couple hours each day. I have been that way since I was little. I base a lot of my characters on myself and my life so most of them are a little off one way or another! lol


Dafeenah

M Pax said...

Very informative and interesting as always.

Hope you got lots done on your WIP.

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I've never thought of using insomnia in my writing. Hmm, with the hallucinations thing it could well in my fantasy. Thanks :)

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I've never thought of using insomnia in my writing. Hmm, with the hallucinations thing it could well in my fantasy. Thanks :)

Krispy said...

What a horrible disease! I think I just saw an episode of Law & Order with someone who had this though, and it was sad. :(

Kat Harris said...

As someone who has A LOT of trouble falling asleep, I'm terrified by this post.

The MC one of my novels is an alcoholic whose sleep patterns are slightly impacted by her drinking, which is common.

Interesting post!

Monti said...

Interesting and tragic disease. I can see a new way to kill off a character!

Monti
NotesAlongTheWay

LTM said...

omg, I'm dealing with mild insomnia right now. And now you're telling me I could die... greaaat... :D

We actually have Insomnia. JRM deemed it UNREADABLE. And he's a fan. I'll have to see if it helps~ :D <3

Jennifer Hillier said...

Another awesome Medical Monday.

I suffer from insomnia every once in a while, but nothing like the seriousness of what you just described. Thankfully.

Tundiel said...

Man, that;s just downright scary. I suffer insomnia now and then, and usually manage on around 3-4 hours of sleep most nights. Couldn't imagine anything as awful as this though. *shudder*

jbchicoine said...

Yet another great, probably underappreciated, affliction!

mist of the blossom rain said...

Oh dear, that is awful.

Lynn said...

Interesting. So it is not a psychological disorder--completely physical that the mind could not even help heal? Gosh, I want to have hope that it could!

catherinemjohnson said...

It's funny I should read this today, I had the night from hell last night and hubby is away so we can't share the bedlam. It's not helping that the puppy wakes up aswell. Yiles I hope night two is better. Maybe I should drink. Not as bad as those poor people in your post though, how awful!

Alleged Author said...

I loved Stephen King's Insomnia. I tried sleeping pills before and they never worked for me. Guess I better ask my mom if insomnia runs in the family!

Susan Fields said...

That is so interesting! I've stuggled with insomnia on and off since I was in sixth grade (though right now, I sleep too much!) Anyway, I have wondered before if insomnia can kill, so this is fascinating.

The Words Crafter said...

I knew insomnia could lead to insanity and hallucinations; I didn't know it could kill or that it was a disease.

Several months after my mom died, I went through a period where I couldn't sleep. No matter what I took or tried or anything. After six weeks, my supervisor said she was going to put me out for medical leave if I didn't get something done.

Eventually, I began sleeping again. It was completely horrible. At best, I managed an hour a night...

What a horrible disease, wow :(

February Grace said...

That's terrible! And I thought I had sleep issues.

By this age, I'm starting to think maybe I am less a chronic insomniac and maybe more I was just born on the wrong side of the planet.

Or the wrong planet, entirely...

Jai Joshi said...

Yikes. I've been trying to get more sleep these days with my long hours at work but this post is scary. I'm going to try harder.

Jai

Lisa Gail Green said...

I never experienced insomnia until I became a writer. Now my brain won't shut down sometimes. I never heard of that kind of insomnia though!! Scary stuff.

KatheeJantzi said...

Hmmpf - I guess I should go to bed (haha) - I LOVE these crazy/odd/fascinating disorders you find to tell us about - my favorite blog ever!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Currently, I am making do with under six hours of sleep. But, now I will sleep longer. I had not heard of Death by Insomina, but heard of problems caused by lack of sleep.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Hm, I haven't read any books with sleep-deprived characters lately. But for all the insomniacs out there, you might enjoy the song "Fireflies" by Owl City. My grown son, a bonafide night owl, made me listen to the lyrics and watch the video, and now it's one of my favorite songs.

Faith said...

Holy... no cure?!? You don't sleep and then you just... die?!?

I think your blog is making me paranoid... LOL.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

This is crazy. I had no idea you could die from insomnia! Thank goodness I've never suffered from it...

p.s. I gave you an award on my blog! Check it out. :)

Melody said...

Omgosh, I've never heard of this and it sounds AWFUL!!! I was reading your description and was like, this just gets worse...and worse...and worse...and - omgosh, they die. Your post title should have been a clue, of course. I had no idea this existed.

Paula said...

Yikes, I had no idea it could be so serious. My husband doesn't sleep well, but nothing like what you explained above. You're right, it would make a good fictional character. Hmmm. Perhaps in a year after this blog post we will see many in your followers manuscripts ; )

I'm a follower, now. Thanks for coming by my blog as well.

Ciara said...

What a horrible disease. I suffer from insomnia, but not to that extent. I consider myself lucky now. Thanks for another great post!

Kari Marie said...

I didn't know you could die from insomnia related illness. Wow. What a horrible death actually.

 
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