I'm writing a character that doesn't sleep until she literally can't stay awake and passes out from exhaustion, because she's afraid of sleeping. Are there any conditions that cause this and if someone is aware of the problem, how can they help her?
Oh, boy, Anon. You have finally given me an excuse to talk about one of my favorite diseases.
So there’s this thing called “Fatal Familial Insomnia.” (FFI) In short, you stop being able to sleep. You go crazy. Then you die.
There are four stages to this disease:
- 4 months - First, the character gets chronic insomnia. They start getting paranoid, develop phobias, and begin having panic attacks. They start experiencing severe physical symptoms (excessive sweating, constipation, etc.)
- 5 months - The character begins having hallucinations and their panic attacks get much worse.
- 3 months - The character rapidly loses weight and is completely unable to sleep.
- Over the course of the next 6 months, the character develops dementia, becoming completely unresponsive and mute.
- Then they die. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
There’s no cure. Taking sleeping pills doesn’t work. In fact, being sedated makes the disease worse, and shortens the time until death. The only thing that’s even slightly helped someone with this disease is spending nights in complete sensory deprivation chambers. Even then, they still died within a few years.
FFI is an incredibly rare disease, and it’s only found in about 40 families in the world - hence the “familial” part of the name. Only about 100 people in the world today have tested positive for this disease.
So what causes such a horrifying thing?
What the fuck is a prion, you ask?
Well, it’s something that can spread an infectious disease, just like bacteria or viruses. But prions are different in that they’re made from something that’s usually normal inside the body - a protein - that has just been made wrong. And it begins to spread its wrongness to other proteins. These proteins basically begin to eat holes in your character’s brain.
Yes. LITERAL HOLES.
Some prion diseases are fairly well known, such as Mad Cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, kuru, and scrapie. But FFI will always be my favorite.
This is probably not what you wanted, but I will take any excuse I can to talk about this disease. >_> Prions are terrifying and awesome. But mostly terrifying.
Even still, looking at the symptoms experienced by people with FFI, who have severe, long-term insomnia, might help you writing your character. If that still isn’t what you’re looking for, I should have the Demystifying the DSM for Sleep Disorders (including insomnia) early-ish next year :).
Get some sleep, y’all. WHILE YOU CAN.
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