Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a rare sleep disorder. It's genetic, and has been diagnosed in less than 40 families worldwide.
Perhaps the most famous case is that of the Chicago music teacher, Michael Corke, who featured in the BBC documentary The Man Who Never Slept.
FFI is a truly dark disease. It begins as a sudden and unexplained sleeplessness sometime during middle age. As this is after the childrearing years, most sufferers have already passed on the cursed gene to their children.
Total insomnia ensues. It's as if, one day, the brain forgets how to sleep, and remains in a permanent state of wakefulness until death brings mercy.
Fatal insomnia is a baffling condition because its symptoms resemble many common diseases like dementia, end-stage alcoholism and encephalitis.
The main symptom of FFI is the inability to sleep, and this causes high pulse and blood pressure, excessive sweating and a loss of coordination and motor skills.
The disease manifests itself in four deteriorating stages:
One of the most tragic aspects of FFI is that though the sufferer shows signs of dementia, they have a clear understanding of what is happening to them, while enduring the physical agony of total sleeplessness.
Little was known about this disease until the last decade, when scientists found it to be caused by a genetic mutation that brings about prion disease.
The term prion ("pree-on") was invented by Stanley Prusiner in the 1980s as the name for an infectious agent. Specifically, a prion is a mis-folded protein that permanently affects the structure of the brain.
Prions are responsible for the outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. Prion disease also causes Kuru (the laughing disease found in cannibalistic tribes in New Guinea) and Alzheimer's Disease.
Indeed, recent studies have found a direct correlation between Alzheimer's, sleep loss, and the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain.
In FFI, prions eat away the thalamus region of the brain, responsible for regulating sleep and various sensory and motor systems, replacing it with amyloid plaques.
This increasingly prevents the sufferer from losing consciousness - although their EEG readings show signs associated with REM sleep during waking hours. They are so sleep deprived, they are dreaming while awake.
Because Fatal Familial Insomnia is genetic, there is a 50% chance of a parent passing it on to their offspring. A diagnostic test is now available, but there is no known cure for FFI. The only hope is that gene therapy will offer a solution to future generations.
The Family That Couldn't Sleep by D T Max details the history of Fatal Familial Insomnia and prion disease. It reads like a detective story with alarming twists and turns, including just how close the population of Britain came to suffering a major epidemic of CJD.
From Publisher's Weekly: "In 1765, Venetian doctors were stumped by the death of a man who had suffered from insomnia for more than a year and spent his final months paralyzed by exhaustion. Over the next two centuries, many of his descendants would develop similarly fatal symptoms, with a range of misdiagnoses, from encephalitis to alcohol withdrawal.
Finally, in the early 1990s, their disease was recognized as a rare genetic form of prion disease. The family reluctantly shared their history of Fatal Familial Insomnia with Max, who has written about science and literature for the New York Times Magazine and other publications. Max (inspired in part by his own neuromuscular disorder) has crafted a powerfully empathetic account of their efforts to make sense of their suffering and find a cure. But this is only half the story.
Looking at prion disease in general, Max doubles back to the English Mad Cow epidemic of the 1990s, retracing established backstories among New Guinea aboriginals and European sheep herds. There's enough fascinating material - in particular, a theory suggesting that early humans were nearly wiped out by a plague spread by cannibalism - to keep readers engaged, but they're likely to want still more about the genuinely captivating family drama."
Jeremiah Morelli is a whimsical fantasy artist and visual storyteller. He places conceptual fairytale creatures in vivid dreamscapes to capture the imagination. He's also a school teacher, and amazingly finds the time and motivation to create this huge gallery of artwork. Such light and dark fairytale paintings make beautiful places to visit in your lucid dreams.
Inspired and named for the notion of Flatland, artist and photographer Aydin Buyuktas has created a series of works where "a space of surprises creates a space that creates surprises." Based on photos of Istanbul, Buyuktas explains: "We live in places that most of the times don't draw our attention, places that transform our memories, places that the artist gives another dimension; where the perceptions that generally crosses our minds will be demolished and new ones will arise. These works aim to leave the viewer alone with a surprising visuality, ironic as well as a multidimensional romantic point of view."
One summer, the 19th century lucid dream researcher, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Deny, took a bottle of an unfamiliar scent on his travels to France. He whiffed his scent-laden handkerchief by day, making an unconscious and emotional connection between the French countryside and his chosen scent. On returning home, he put the bottle away, out of sight and out of smell. His cunning plan was to have a servant sprinkle a few drops of the scent on his pillow at night. Lo and behold, Saint-Deny recorded dreams that took place at his vacation spot: the mountains of Ardeche.
Lately I've become a touch obsessed with the optical illusion paintings of Canadian artist, Rob Gonsalves. Everyone loves a good trick of the eye... but these paintings seem to be sprung straight from lucid dreams. Maybe it's their surreal nature. Or maybe it's the mockery of perspective. Gonsalves has spent decades perfecting his art, aiming to spark the imagination and jolt our expectations of reality at once. Check out the surprising results in these 22 visionary paintings. They're great lucid dream fodder.
Some people are born lucid dreamers. Others have to work at the ability to have lucid dreams. Regardless of how you get started, here are 11 signs that you're ready to wake up and take control of your dreams. 1. Your daydreams are intense. Do you have crazy vivid daydreams? Do you find it easy to fantasize visually? Such a knack for visualization makes it easier to drift into Wake Induced Lucid Dreams at night, or plant mnemonic cues to trigger Dream Induced Lucid Dreams. This is a natural advantage.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?