In Rare Cases People Can Die From Insomnia
Fatal familial insomnia is a rare genetic disease that prevents a person from falling asleep, eventually leading to death.
Experts have identified it as a prion disease, caused by an abnormal protein developing from a genetic mutation, that affects brain function, causing memory loss, no control over muscle movements and hallucinations.
In 1986, researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine reported a case of a 53-year old man who suffered from lack of sleep getting only two to three hours per night.
Two months later, he could sleep only one hour per night, and was frequently disturbed by vivid dreams. After three to six months, normal sleep became impossible, causing him severe fatigue, body tremors and breathing difficulty.
After eight months, he fell into a stupor and eventually died.
The researchers analysis of the family’s history revealed the man’s two sisters, and many of his relatives, also died of a similar disease.
How Little Is Too Little
Getting less sleep than you need for a night or two can lead to a foggy, unproductive day, but it usually wont hurt you much.
But when you regularly lose sleep, youll start to see some unwanted health effects pretty quickly. Consistently getting just an hour or two less sleep than you need can contribute to:
- slower reaction time
- higher risk for physical illness
- worsened mental health symptoms
What about going an entire night without sleep? Or longer?
Youve probably pulled an all-nighter or two before. Maybe you stayed up all night to put the finishing touches on a budget proposal or complete your graduate thesis.
If youre a parent, you may have experienced more than a few sleepless nights and you probably have a few choice words about the myth that coping with lost sleep gets easier over time.
How Lack Of Sleep Can Kill You
Sleep deprivation increases your chances of accidents, including car crashes.
Yes, you just read that sleep deprivation can’t kill you, except in the case of the rare genetic disease FFI. Although it’s true there’s no hard evidence that people die directly from sleep deprivation, people can die from events related to sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep can kill you indirectly by increasing your overall morbidity risk, says Dr. Shelby Harris, licensed psychologist, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist and neurology professor. Medically, chronic sleep inadequacy can increase morbidity in a number of ways, she says, including:
- Impaired immune functioning
- Weight gain, which increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and high blood pressure
- Increased risk of depression, which increases the risk of suicide
- Psychosis, which may lead to self-harm
Complete and partial sleep deprivation also heavily affect your risk of accidents, falls and injuries. For example, operating heavy machinery becomes extremely dangerous when you’re running on little to no sleep.
Sleep deprivation may also increase your chances of dying from an underlying health issue that already exists. For example, people have died during video gaming marathons which, on the surface, seems due to sleep deprivation. However, autopsies reveal the true cause is likely a combination of exhaustion and heart failure, heart attack or stroke.
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The Dangers Of Being Really Really Tired
CIA interrogators at Guantanamo Bay subjected dozens of detainees to sleep deprivation, shackling the prisoners in a standing position for up to 11 days at a time. Recently released Justice Department memorandums claim sleep deprivation studies show that surprisingly, little seem to go wrong with the subjects physically. Wait, is it really safe to go without sleep?
Noextended bouts of sleeplessness can cause an array of physical symptoms and might eventually kill you. The effects begin within the first 24 hours of sleep deprivation. First, the body undergoes subtle hormonal changescortisol and TSH levels increase, leading to a rise in blood pressure. A day or two later, it stops metabolizing glucose properly, creating carbohydrate cravings. A persons body temperature will also drop, and his or her immune response becomes somewhat suppressed. All of these physiological changes are reversible, thoughtake a nap, and youll be on the road back to normal.
Got a question about todays news? .
Explainer thanks Charles A. Czeisler of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Womens Hospital, James B. Maas of Cornell University, Amita Sehgal of the University of Pennsylvania, and Jerry Siegel of UCLA.
Social Jet Lag Can Be A Drag
If you’re having trouble waking up on Monday morning, you could have “social jet lag,” a habit of following a different sleep schedule on weekdays versus the weekend.
A recent study showed that people with different weekday and weekend sleep schedules were three more times likely to be overweight. Previous research has also linked increased weight with sleep deprivation and irregular sleep schedules.
Even an hour difference in the time you get up or go to bed can affect your sleep, said Colleen Carney, a sleep psychologist at Ryerson University in Canada.
We’re like toddlers who need a consistent schedule, Carney said.
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Causes And Risk Factors
Fatal familial insomnia develops due to an abnormality in the prion-related protein gene, which produces prion proteins. Researchers understand that these proteins are active in the brain, but their exact function is still unclear.
Mutation of the PRNP gene occurs in people with fatal familial insomnia. The mutation causes PRNP to produce faulty, or misfolded, prion proteins.
These misfolded proteins harm the nervous system, including the brain. There is particular damage to the thalamus, a region of the brain that plays a role in regulating sleep, appetite, and body temperature.
Over time, the misfolded proteins collect in the thalamus, causing the symptoms of fatal familial insomnia to develop and become increasingly severe.
Because fatal familial insomnia is so rare, there is little information about its risk factors.
Most people with the PRNP gene mutation start to experience symptoms around the ages of 4550.
The Problem Was That Many Family Members Did Not Want To Know The Results Of The Test: The Fear Would Cloud The Rest Of Their Lives
Disappointingly, a later study that tested the drug on patients already showing more aggressive symptoms of CJD failed to find a benefit. Roiter and his colleagues wonder if by that point, it might simply be too late to be of use. For this reason, they want to see if doxycycline may still function as a preventative treatment in people at risk of FFI, before the prions have started to amass. It might delay or completely disrupt the development of the disease, says Gianluigi Forloni at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, who is helping to lead the project.
Setting up a reliable trial, while remaining sensitive to the familys anxieties, involved some knotty considerations. First, the scientists had to genetically test each member to see who was carrying the mutation, and so should be given the active drug. From these, they selected 10 members aged 42 to 52 who might be expected to decline within the next decade.
Fear of knowledge
The problem was that many of the family members did not want to know the results of the test: even with the hope of the drug, the fear would cloud every waking minute of their lives. For this reason, a further 15 members who are not at risk of the disease will also receive a sham treatment. This means that each member should have no way of figuring out the results of their test: as far as they can tell, there is less than a 50:50 chance of proving positive or not.
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Man Dies After Going 11 Days Without Sleep: What Are The Health Risks Of Sleep Deprivation
Going 11 days without sleep likely cost a Chinese man his life earlier this week, as he attempted to watch every game in the European Championship, TIME reported.
The Telegraph reported that the 26-year-old, who was given the false name Jiang Xiaoshan by the Sanxiang Metropolis newspaper in China, was healthy before he started his soccer-watching marathon.
“Jiang was in good health. But staying up through the night and not sleeping enough weakened his immune system and he drank and smoked while watching the football, triggering his condition,” Liu Zhiling, a doctor from the People’s Hospital ER, told the Sanxiang Metropolis, as reported by The Telegraph.
TIME reported that the was found dead in his sleep. Because of the time difference between Europe and China, soccer matches didn’t begin until the middle of the night, between 1 and 3 a.m.
In closely-watched experiments, people have been able to stay awake for eight to 10 days straight, Scientific American reported. They didn’t suffer any serious health effects, although they did have severe problems with concentration, perception and the like the longer they were awake.
According to Scientific American, the longest a human is able to stay awake for is 264 hours, which is 11 days. The first time the record was set was by a 17-year-old named Randy Gardner in 1965 however, Discovery Fit & Health reported on a 42-year-old man named Tony Wright who claimed to have broken that record in 2007.
Egyptian Man 2011 Netherlands
In 2011, the first reported case in the Netherlands was of a 57-year-old man of Egyptian descent. The man came in with symptoms of double vision and progressive memory loss, and his family also noted he had recently become disoriented, paranoid, and confused. While he tended to fall asleep during random daily activities, he experienced vivid dreams and random muscular jerks during normal slow-wave sleep. After four months of these symptoms, he began to have convulsions in his hands, trunk, and lower limbs while awake. The person died at age 58, seven months after the onset of symptoms. An autopsy revealed mild atrophy of the frontal cortex and moderate atrophy of the thalamus. The latter is one of the most common signs of FFI.
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Can You Die From Insomnia
One-third of adults in America dont get the recommended seven hours of sleep. Even worse, those who arent getting consistent sleep could be suffering from a sleep disorder.
Some mistake insomnia as episodic a major reason why its a commonly undiagnosed sleep disorder. People suffering from this condition dont realize it is an actual sleep disorder that requires a sleep specialist.
Prolonged sleep deprivation can make you feel miserable, but can you die from insomnia?
Quality Not Just Quantity
Even if sleep duration is good, sleep quality can be quite poor. Sleep interruptions can fragment sleep. When a person goes back to sleep after an interruption, it can take up to one hour to reach the restful part of the sleep cycle. Another interruption before reaching deep sleep will cause yet another delay in the cycle. People who wake up many times during the night can have some nights with zero hours of deep, restful sleep. Poor sleep quantity and/or quality can cause excessive daytime drowsiness , chronic fatigue, headaches, mood issues, irritability, poor memory, and cognitive dysfunction.
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He Said Ill Stop Sleeping And Within Eight Or Nine Months Ill Be Dead
Silvano eventually referred himself to the University of Bolognas sleep unit for further study, but he was under no illusions about the course of the disease. He said, Ill stop sleeping, and within eight or nine months, Ill be dead, one of his doctors, Pietro Cortelli, told me in a phone interview.
I said how can you be sure? He then drew me his genealogical tree from the 18th Century, all by heart. In each generation, Silvano could name family members who had succumbed to the same fate.
As Silvano had predicted, he died less than a couple of years later, but he left his brain to science in the hope that it might shed some light on the strange disorder that had plagued his family.
The first known case of fatal insomnia can be traced to a Venetian doctor. Local records describe a paralysed stupor lasting for months
Whats going on inside the brains and bodies of people with this strange disease? Its a mystery that researchers are only now starting to fully understand, and possibly treat with a promising new drug. However, since Fatal Familial Insomnia involves a genetic legacy that is passed through generations, this research is also raising a difficult and ethically fraught question: if your familys genes meant you could one day be struck down by the inability to sleep, would you want to be told your fate?
The Venetian family live in fear of “una notte in bianco” – a sleepless night that might signal the start of their decline
Snored To Death: The Symptoms And Dangers Of Untreated Sleep Apnea
- By Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS, Contributor
Sleep is a critically important component of human existence. On average, humans spend about 25% to 35% of their lives sleeping. Sleep allows both the body and brain to rest and recover from the stress of daily life. As such, trouble sleeping can cause a range of health problems, and if left untreated, dire consequences.
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The Question Keeping You Up At Night: Can Insomnia Kill You
With insomnia, nothings real. Everythings far away. Everythings a copy of a copy of a copy. When you have insomnia, youre never really asleep and youre never really awake.
You may recognize this quote from the 1997 film Fight Club. In the movie, a doctor assures Edward Nortons character that no one has ever died of insomnia. But is this a truthful depiction of reality?
Sleep And Grief: A Bidirectional Relationship
Poor sleep quality is not a diagnostic feature of complicated grief, but it may increase ones risk of developing complicated grief. A growing number of studies show that sleep disturbance often accompanies grief, and that the sleep and grief share a bidirectional relationship.
As many as 91% of individuals with complicated grief report sleep problems. Forty-six percent say they have trouble sleeping, specifically due to their grief, at least three times per week.
At the same time, those who have sleep complaints during bereavement including short sleep, trouble falling asleep, and waking up during the night are more likely to develop complicated grief. In other words, grief not only disrupts sleep, but poor sleep can make the grieving process harder.
For example, one study of bereaved college students found that those suffering a loss had a significantly higher rate of insomnia than their non-grieving peers. More than 1 in 5 of the bereaved experienced insomnia, compared with only 1 in 6 of the non-grieving students. Among the grieving students, those with insomnia had more severe symptoms of complicated grief than those whose sleep wasnt disrupted.
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Unnamed Patient Of Schenkein And Montagna 2001
One person was able to exceed the average survival time by nearly one year with various strategies, including vitamin therapy and meditation, using different stimulants and hypnotics, and even complete sensory deprivation in an attempt to induce sleep at night and increase alertness during the day. He managed to write a book and drive hundreds of miles in this time, but nonetheless, over the course of his trials, the person succumbed to the classic four-stage progression of the illness.
What Causes The Damage In Ffi
This is an interesting question and not as easy to answer as it might first seem. There are a number of processes which may contribute:
It is likely that there is a combination of all the above factors leading to death.
It is interesting that people who carry FFI appear to be perfectly healthy until the presentation at middle age.
This would suggest that there needs to be some kind of triggering factor to cause the actual disease.
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The Widowmaker Heart Attack
While most heart attacks have a decent chance of waking their victims up before death occurs, the widowmaker tends to be an exception. Weve already mentioned heart attacks in general once on this list, but this particular type of infarction deserves its own spot.
Why? Because its among the deadliest types of heart attacks that can occur. It happens when the left main artery, also known as the left anterior descending artery, gets blocked. A 100-percent blockage in this artery is almost always fatal without immediate emergency care, hence the nickname.
How does it kill? Heart attacks with severe enough blockages result in damaged heart muscle. And if the muscle becomes too damaged to pump blood, the result can be fatal.