Fatal Familial Insomnia is a terrible disease. What makes it even worse is that there is not a whole lot known about the way FFI works. Studies have been done for several years, and the people who are researching have figured out that a patient who has FFI has abnormal proteins that are called prions. Prions attack a part of the brain that is buried deep inside called the thalamus. A thalamus that is damaged interrupts the sleep process. Researchers do not have an understanding as to why this happens, how to make it stop, or how to ease the pain of the terrible symptoms. Previous to FFI, researchers did not know that sleep and the thalamus were connected at all. The disease is very very rare, only 40 families in the whole world have FFI. It is a serious mystery much like the types of insomnia that people face every day.
It is hard to know why we can’t sleep if we don’t even know why we need to sleep. It doesn’t matter how much you try to fight sleep, in the end, sleep will win the battle. After about 7 to 9 hours of being asleep, normally, we are ready to get up and face the day. Then, about 15 to 17 hours after that, we are ready to get more sleep.
The main theory of sleep is that the brain needs it. That idea comes from common sense. Does sleep really help the brain, if so, how? The answer can depend on what type of sleep you are referring to. A recent study showed that individuals who had engaged in REM sleep performed better in recognizing patterns such as grammar. Those who slept for more of a deep sleep did better at remembering things.
It is also thought that sleep has a psychological purpose too. Patients that suffer from FFI never live a long life and this is significant. It is unknown as to what really kills them. EEGs are used to diagnose FFI and also, narcolepsy. One person says that he can diagnose sleep problems just by having a conversation with them. There are people who can’t leave their eyes open, and people who talk about how tired they are but do not fall asleep. True insomniacs are the ones who cannot keep their eyes open and the ones who talk about exhaustion typically have sleep apnea.
Insomnia is treated with sleeping pills and cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a where a specialized psychologist teaches the person to think about sleep problems as manageable and solvable. They are also taught to good sleep hygiene.
If somebody is unable to sleep, it may be because we forgot how to sleep. Everybody sleeps differently. Some people go to bed at a certain time every day, some people sleep alone, some with another person, some sleep on a comfy bed and some sleep on a couch. Since everybody sleeps differently, it can make it difficult to determine why we need to sleep.
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