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'The Sandman's Sleep Disease Outbreak Actually Happened in Real Life

Image credit: Netflix

How many more things from this show have actually happened in reality?

'The Sandman' starts off with Morpheus, the king of dreams, being captured by Roderick Burgess — an occult wizard who actually wanted to captivate Death and demand immortality from her. However, he imprisoned Morpheus instead, holding him hostage for dozens of years.

This could not go unnoticed in the real world, with Morpheus' absence resulting in some sort of an insomnia/lethargy plague across the world. Some people craved sleep and couldn't get any; others, on the contrary, were not even able to wake up.

The disease only ended as soon as Dream was able to escape his prison decades later. However, it left a lot of people affected; for instance, one of the side characters of the show, Unity, got old before actually living her life as she fell asleep in her teenage years and slept through her young years.

Well, it turns out that Neil Gaiman managed to weave together history and fictional world, because a similar thing actually happened in real life, as one fan's research showed.

"I was just reading a book on medical history and came across this little passage: "Encephalitis lethargica, a mysterious illness that began to sweep across much of the globe at around the time of the First World War. Patients often fell into a deep sleep from which they could not be roused." So people really were suffering from Morpheus's absence, eh?" Reddit user @EMSuser mused.

The mysterious disease was first described by the neurologist Constantin von Economo and the pathologist Jean-René Cruchet in 1917 — a date that falls in line with the events in 'The Sandman'. The epidemic spread across the world between 1915 and 1926, and it is estimated that some one million people were affected, and around 500,000 deaths were caused by the disease.

The most interesting thing about this is that the epidemic never recurred, even though isolated cases are sometimes reported. It seems that it's better to have Morpheus free and in charge of the dream realm after all, huh?

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