Fatal Familial Insomnia
SCIN104 – Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology
July 4, 2010
Sleep is a basic function that is one of the most natural and primitive actions that the body performs. But why? Sleep is not learned behavior. Sleep is an instinct with which we are born. The body is refreshed after sleeping. It is believed that sleep makes the body healthier by improving the immune system, repairing the body, and resetting the inner “database.” Researchers have conducted numerous experiments on the need for sleep, the effects on the body when sleep is missed, and the amounts of sleep that humans require at different stages in life. The amount of sleep that one requires depends on various factors. For example, an infant requires approximately 16 hours of sleep throughout a 24 hour period. This need decreases as age progresses. Adolescents generally require approximately 9 hours of sleep and adults can average 7-8 hours and manage to function.
What happens to the human body when sleep is deprived? Scientists have done numerous studies on the effects surrounding a lack of sleep. Headaches, muscle pain, irritability, dizziness, nausea, memory loss, slowed motor function are just a few of the effects reported. What happens when the ability to sleep is lost completely? A condition known as fatal familial insomnia causes an individual to do just that. Instances of this disease have been described in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. (I) However, the disease is extremely rare and has been detected in less than 50 families worldwide. Death is inevitable to those with the disease as there is currently no known treatment or cure. The condition was first witnessed in 1974, by Dr. Ignazio Roiter after witnessing first-hand the progressive insomnia and rapid deterioration and death of a maternal aunt of his wife, Elisabetta. In 1979, a second maternal aunt (sister of the first victim) of his wife began having the same...
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