Dying Without Sleep: Insomnia and its Implications

Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) causes patients to die within a year or two of its onset.  It is a rare neurological disorder where the cause of death is attributed to neural degeneration. Death is hastened by a marked “disruption of critical functions” due to lack of sleep.  All patients display damage to a mass of grey brain matter called the thalamus.  According to Ann M Akroush of University of Michigan’s Department of Natural Sciences the thalamus is “the area (of the brain) responsible for sleep.”

Ann M. Akroush of the University of Michigan’s Department of Natural Sciences calls the thalamus “the area [of the brain] responsible for sleep,” noting that during sleep, it is generally thought that “the thalamus becomes less efficient…allowing for

FFI is part of a family of diseases called transmissible encephalopathy (TSE), or prion disease. These spongiform encephalopathies are brain infections with little holes in the affected region. They are spreadable and attack the thalamus. The patient loses the ability to sleep, rapidly loses weight, experiences dementia and irressponsiveness. The patient dies suddenly.  FFI is hereditary.

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