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Did anyone die from not sleeping?

Is it possible to die if a man does not sleep for a long period of time? Yes, it is if he/she is ill with Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI).

Fatal Familial Insomnia is a rare incurable hereditary disease with a lethal outcome – a person dies from insomnia after all. It has 4 stages of tortures:

  1. A man begins to have a disturbed night’s sleep: it is very difficult for him/her to fall asleep and stay asleep during a night. That is why a man’s organism cannot recover from energy losses during a day and he/she feels overfatigued, drowsy and depressed during a day. It is a mistake to think that with time a human organism gets used to such changes. Nothing of the kind. This burden becomes heavier and heavier every day. A man also begins to suffer from panic attacks and phobias. It lasts for 4 months on average.

  2. Since the 5th month of insomnia, a man can have hallucinations. His/her brain does not have time to process the information it has got during a day – a healthy man’s brain is occupied with it during sleeping hours. It becomes overloaded. That is why under the circumstances like these, a person can see, hear, smell or touch some objects or people that don’t exist in reality.

  3. Then, a man loses an ability to sleep at all. No matter how hard a man tries, he/she beats the air. Moreover, a man begins to lose weight in leaps and bounds. Because there is no possibility for his/her organism to recover, work of all internal systems and organs is affected. This phase usually lasts about 3 months.

  4. During a final stage, this poor person almost does not speak and walk – any physical or intellectual activity is impossible for his/her to implement. A man loses reaction to external factors. It seems that a man does not have power to do the essential things. His/her organism is totally exhausted. It can continue about half a year. Then a man dies…

FFI’s duration is 7-36 months which have no other outcome except inevitable death. If one parent has FFI, there is a 50 per cent chance that his/her baby will be infected. Usually, people fall ill with FFI in 30-60.

Its symptoms are:

FFI is a very rare disease. In general, about 40 families in the world have ever had it. Today, there are 26 ones ill with Fatal Familial Insomnia, among them 8 German, 5 Italian, 4 American, 2 French, 2 Australian, 2 British, 1 Austrian, 1 Japanese and 1 Dutch (a man of Egyptian descent has fallen ill with FFI recently).

FFI originated about 250 years ago in 1765. The first man who started this curse was of an Italian descent; his name was Giacomo. Since then, his family (and some others already) has been haunted by it. It was rather wealthy and influential one, but even having such a fortune, they could not do anything to get rid of it because the salvation didn’t exist (as now). Giacomo lived in a small town where the rumors about his disease were spread with lightning speed. Even today, it is difficult for his descendants to get a life insurance. Besides an inability to sleep at night and an organism’s total exhaustion, Giacomo had all signs of dementia with the only difference: madmen do not understand what is going on around, but Giacomo realized everything to the last detail and had to live with it.

In 1980s, one of Giacomo’s descendants, Silvano, revealed FFI’s symptoms. He considered that it is unacceptable to be ignorant about such a terrible disease in XX cent. So, he let the scientists from the University of Bologna’s sleep clinic (Dr. Ignazio Roiter in particular) to watch the progress of his illness. Thanks to Silvano, they found out that hypnotics and barbiturates are not effective in the fight with FFI. On the contrary, they are strictly prohibited for FFI’s victims because they make their condition even worse: they lose the connection with reality more and more, the symptoms become intensified, and the disease grows progressively worse.

Unfortunately, specialists could not manage to save Silvano’s life – even after a range of experiments and tests, they could not define the cause of it and the way to resist it. Silvano dreamt to help anyhow in dotting i’s and crossing t’s about FFI that is why he let the scientists to continue investigations after his death taking his brain for it.

Due to Silvano’s invaluable contribution, they determined what causes FFI. It is a brain disease. In the thalamus (a brain’s area that is responsible for regulating sleep) proteins mutate and turn into harmful cells which are called “prions”. They accumulate in a man’s brain and ruin its nerve cells leaving the holes instead. For instance, mad cow disease is also a prion one.

This discovery was made by Stanly B. Prusiner, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1997, he was awarded with the Nobel Prize in medicine for this.

Nowadays, there does not exist 100 per cent effective treatment for Fatal Familial Insomnia. Only the first steps are made in this direction in a gene therapy area (experts try to correct defects which are caused by the mutations in DNA). Recently, scientists have been working at such a medicine as Quinicrine. It is still unknown whether it is really helpful in the struggle against FFI, but it can become a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.