The Real Sleeping Sickness: is the “sleeping Sickness” in the Show Accurate?

A third of a human’s life is spent sleeping and dreaming, while we live in the waking world. Oversleeping is harmful to your health, and that much is certain. The question is, “What if one night you go to sleep and you don’t wake up?”

The Man of Sand, a Netflix sci-fi fantasy epic based on the Neil Gaiman comic series, features this seemingly far-fetched notion as a central plot aspect.

Morpheus, the “Lord of Dreams,” who rules over people’s nocturnal visions, is presented to viewers in the premiere episode. When he ventures out of his realm of him into the waking world to rein in a nightmare gone wild, an occultist catches up with him and takes him captive. For many years after Morpheus is imprisoned, a sleep disorder called “lethargic encephalitis” spreads throughout the population.

Recently, in a Twitter thread, show creator Mark Sumner explained that the show’s ailment is based on a real-life condition that affected millions of people not even a hundred years ago. But how accurately does the show reflect real sickness, and can we learn anything from it about the Covid-19 outbreak that is currently sweeping the globe? In reverse, we interviewed scientists to learn the intriguing but drowsy science behind the phenomenon.

What is lethargic Encephalitis?

A girl in The Man in the Sand contracted sleeping sickness. Netflix
In 1916, a physician named Constantin von Economo reported an outbreak of a particular sickness he called “lethargic encephalitis” in Vienna. The next year, the condition was officially recognised. There was a wide age range of victims, but at least half of them were ten to thirty years old.

According to Reverse, co-author and Indiana University assistant professor of clinical anatomy, cell biology, and physiology Leslie Hoffman claims that patients with this ailment exhibited “unusual neurological symptoms that did not fit any disease recognised at the time.”

The 1918 influenza pandemic began in France, Austria, and England and quickly expanded throughout Europe, the Americas, and India. From 1917 to 1927, it swept the globe like something out of The Man of Sand. Although there is a lack of official statistics, scientists estimate that over a million individuals have been infected with the disease and over 500,000 have lost their lives as a result. The mortality rates are predicted to range from shockingly high to 20-40%.

In contrast to Sandman, however, the actual cause of the condition remains unknown. Patients exhibited flu-like symptoms before the onset of neurological issues, leading some researchers to speculate that the Spanish flu may be to blame.

According to Jamie Zeitzer, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University, “lethargic encephalitis is thought to be caused by an autoimmune attack on distinct areas of the brain following a Spanish flu infection.” Reverse. This resembles Sydenham’s chorea, which appears after rheumatic fever in the form of neurological symptoms.

Experts speculate that the widespread dispersal of the disease among soldiers during World War I contributed to its eventual eradication by the 1930s. Since then, sporadic cases have been documented, but according to Hoffman, there is “great heterogeneity in diagnostic criteria,” making these diagnosis suspect.

We cannot establish a causal relationship between the Spanish flu and lethargic encephalitis, even if the timing is correct. According to Hoffman, there is proof both for and against, and the scarcity of fresh cases has hampered future research.

Is The “Sleeping Sickness” In The Show Accurate?

The capture of the “Dream Lord,” depicted here, is the source of the sleeping illness in the show. However, the true causes of lethargic encephalitis remain unknown. With almost a million victims in “every city, town, and village in the world,” Netflix Morpheus paints a bleak picture of the sleeping illness. He claims that some people sleepwalk while others “pray for a sleep that will not come.” Many sick people just went to bed and never came back to life.

Even while sleepiness and drowsiness are common symptoms of the epidemic, they make for better television dramas than they do in real life.

The Real Sleeping Sickness

Edward Shorter, a professor at the University of Toronto and the Hannah Chair in medical history, and author of a paper on lethargic encephalitis believes that the programme exaggerated some of the symptoms of the condition. Reverse. “His defining feature was not an irresistible slumber but a crushing weariness,”

This show oversimplifies a highly complicated illness. Based on what I read from Zeitzer, Gaiman “merged numerous features of the disease” in the comic. There were 28 recognised types of lethargic encephalitis, which may be broadly classified into a handful of categories.

Patients in the first group experienced an “overwhelming need to sleep,” slept for abnormally lengthy periods but were also quickly roused from sleep, as described by Hoffman.

Patients in the second group “remained rigid and immobile for lengthy periods, but could easily be moved by an outside force,” says Hoffman, describing their condition as one of sleeplessness and rigidity. In contrast to their mental alertness, the patients’ expressionless features suggested that they might be like the “perpetual sleepwalkers” depicted in the show.

Awakenings, a 1990 film starring Robin Williams as a doctor caring for plague survivors, focuses on the third group. Hoffman claims that these “hyperkinetic” patients exhibited symptoms comparable to those of Parkinson’s disease, including frequent muscle contractions, involuntary motions of the face and limbs, extreme restlessness, and extreme weariness.

However, insomnia is not one of the symptoms; in fact, many patients with the hyperkinetic form have often experienced a reversal of day-night sleep cycles, as stated by Hoffman. “This form could fit individuals shown in the programme who” longed for sleep that would not come.

What Can Lethargic Encephalitis Teach Us About Covid-19?

In one episode, a hospital deals with extremely sleepy encephalitis patients. We may be able to learn anything from the similarities between lethargic encephalitis and some patients with extended Covid. Netflix
Due to the similarity in neurological issues (such as persistent fatigue and brain fog) between post-lethargic encephalitis patients and Covid transports, several academics have authored articles comparing the two groups in recent years.

According to Shorter, patients with lethargic encephalitis can survive, but they will likely suffer from aberrant movements and other neurological issues for the rest of their lives. This syndrome is called postencephalitic parkinsonism. Specialist in awakenings. Because of the severity of its neurological symptoms, he dubs lethargic encephalitis the “first psychiatric pandemic.”

Shorter adds, “These chronic postviral disorders appear to have the central nervous system in common, although acutely affecting several organ systems.”

Although lethargic encephalitis is no longer widely discussed, its course may provide insight for people currently dealing with Covid-19. A fatal outcome for Covid-19 would be for it to develop into lethargic encephalitis.

Shorter claims that the symptoms of his lethargic encephalitis miraculously vanished. Perhaps even Covid will follow suit.

Till then, keep yourself updated with all the latest news from our website and get all the recent updates.

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