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Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Sensory and Sleep Deprivation

Dear Jeannie,

Genesis was the first of a powerful race, who came to be viewed as gods by the other race indigenous to that part of the world. Most of this powerful race came up with a plan that would have harmed this less powerful race and Genesis was forced to destroy his own people to prevent that. However, his actions were misunderstood. The people he had protected viewed him as having betrayed the rest of the 'gods,' coming to view him as a somewhat Satan-like figure, and sealed him away with magic. This place he was trapped in kept him in complete sensory deprivation (to the point where he couldn't even feel the breaths he took) and in a state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness for over a thousand years before he was finally released by mistake. Keeping in mind that he is of a more durable race than humans, what sort of mental effects would be likely to result from such a long period of sensory deprivation and then suddenly being returned to the regular world with all its senses? What would be a believable reaction to being subjected to this by the very people he gave up his own species to save? Not to mention being villainized by them?

Thank you so much for your time,
Sadistic in the Sandias

Dear Sadistic,

It sounds like you might have Genesis in an isolation tank of some sort for over 1000 years. Sensory deprivation is a common form of torture, and it has different effects for different folks, much less a more "durable human." For normal folk, sensory deprivation is actually relaxing and therapeutic, almost like meditation. But extended deprivation can result in hallucinations, anxiety, bizarre thoughts/delusions, and depression. Perhaps Genesis could withstand some of these negatives longer than an average human, but would still have aspects of these symptoms after, say, 100 years. Psychologist Donald Hebb conducted experiments in the 50s and 60s which were recreated in 2008 in the documentary "Total Isolation." You can watch the almost 50 min show in its entirety here, which may give you additional ideas. I'd Google Hebb, as well. Good luck!

Dear Jeannie,

Kat spends her nights in the Dream World, a world where missing parents are brought together with their children. Kat's been visiting her father, a soldier, for almost four years now. However, the Dream World only exists in dozing. It feels like sleep, but leaves Kat feeling as if she only dozed through the night. Apart from difficulty concentrating and crankiness, how would this affect Kat after four years? What would sleep deprivation do to her, if anything? Also, at the end of my novel, she realizes her subconscious made up the Dream World to help her cope with the loss of her father. Is it plausible for her to invent such a complex world? 


Dear Anonymous,

Strange that your question follows Sadistic's! And fascinating story line. Sleep deprivation can cause multiple issues for folks, like memory problems, weakened immune systems, increase in the perception of pain, and depression. Kat might even act like she's intoxicated. Studies have shown that sleep deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task perform as badly as or worse than those who are under the influence. So you could probably use that in your characterization of her. Your plausibility question is an interesting one for sure. The brain is capable of hallucinating loved ones after they die (you should read my grief posts), and coping with death differs for everyone and could involve elaborate dream sequences for sure. So no, I don't think its impossible. I think how you write it would indicate whether the reader believes it to be so. Thanks for writing in, best of luck.


I may have answers. Leave your question below anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my response in future Dear Jeannie columns.