Have you, or someone you know, slept as long as 20 hours (more or less) per day for weeks or months?
In my own circle of acquaintance, there are a few parent friends who’ve sought advice on what to do with their teenager kids (mostly sons) who sleep a lot and take little interest in the world around them. To quote, such kids were described as “they want to sleep their life away.” However, some of the parents impart that it’s nothing to be worried about as teens are in their growing up years and as such, as undergoing some drowsy episodes.
But what if the drowsy episodes lasts for a few days to a few weeks? What if sleepy attacks takes over a person for over two months? They who sleeps most of the day, every day for weeks or months; waking up for some time just to eat, go to the toilet, but afterwards, readily return to sleep or floats sleepily around the house for some time, sometimes grouchy, sometimes as nasty as could be.
Surely, sleeping THAT long or having seemingly schizophrenic moves is far from normal, right? As in the case of 22-year-old Alanna Wong, who suffers from Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS) –which she got at age 10 – a rare sleep disorder that causes periodic episodes of extreme fatigue, sleep-hunger, sleep-drunkenness, and social disruption. Alanna would fall into a trance without warning, sleep for 22 hours at a time, throw terrifying tantrums and act entirely out of character. According to her parents, she babbles like a baby and is unable to read or communicate during episodes of KLS.
She would behave erratically and unpredictably, become rude and argumentative. So different from the usual polite, healthy, clean-living girl.
Her mother, Diane, who is 52, said it’s like her daughter Alanna reverts to being a little girl when she is in the throes of an attack, acting like she did when she was five years old. She starts crying and gets so upset, thinking everyone hates her. Any attempt to calm her seldom works. She would try to make Alanna read a book with her to calm her down, but it just don’t work because it shows Alanna can’t do it.
But when she’s fully ‘awake‘ during regular days, Alanna remembers nothing of them; giving her the feeling that she has traveled in time, so to speak.
‘To quote Alanna Wong, “It’s like those days never even happened, ” but there were videos taken of her during her child-like tantrums and babblings to prove just how different Alanna was during her KLS bouts, which come without warning, lasting for days, weeks, or even months. So far, her longest episode had lasted eight months ! Whew!
She was misdiagnosed during the first eight years, owing to the similarity of her symptoms to those associated with psychiatric illnesses; i.e., depression, altered sleeping patterns, increased eating and sometimes bizarre behavior.
It was only at age 18 when Alanna was finally diagnosed as having KLS, after a specialist confirmed she had it after brain scans revealed the thallomys – that area responsible for normal sleep and wake functions – was lacking in activity when she was going through one of her episodes. It was a great relief for Alanna and her parents to finally know what was wrong with her; making it easier to explain to people what she was going through.
Presently, Alana is trying to rebuild herself as best she could. Her condition, which includes a malfunction of the area of the brain that controls sleeping and appetite, means it’s still difficult to work or study with others because episode attacks could trigger any time on any day and not everyone understands or is compassionate with KLS sufferers.
Alanna preferred to focus on an online course in Web Marketing which she could manage in her own time. On regular days, she eats healthily and works out regularly with tennis and paddle-boarding when she’s not in an episode. Unfortunately, KLS is as yet, still incurable, but in most sufferers, it gets better with age and disappears in their mid-thirties. Alanna is hopeful and is now able to take her condition in stride.
Medical researchers have yet to get to the bottom of what exactly causes Kleine–Levin Syndrome. Many sufferers grow out of it in their 30s, but some have it for life; what a pity.
So, the next time we catch a story of someone who suddenly manifests strange patterns of oversleeping, overeating and bizarre behavior, at least we won’t be so surprised anymore.
Just an afterthought; maybe this Kleine–Levin Syndrome, a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, is actually the central plot in our Sleeping beauty fairy tale after all. It probably just didn’t have a name before. ^_^