Rose doesn’t remember exactly when her sleep problems began. She knows that she often had trouble staying awake in class when she was in high school. It didn’t bother her that much at the time. After all, what teenager doesn’t get sleepy during school?
People told her that it was just a part of her personality. She was quiet and introverted, so it was natural that she didn’t have a lot of energy.
In college, things started to get a little worse. Her class schedule was always changing, and it was hard for her to keep up. Rose skipped a lot of early classes because she simply had a hard time getting started in the morning.
But she also missed classes and labs at other times of day. She would come back to the dorm to rest when she had a gap in her schedule. Before she knew it, Rose would realize that an hour had passed. She was already late for her next class.
As a result of these absences, her grades really began to suffer. This time she was told that she might have a problem with depression. She started to meet with a counselor at the university health center. After two sessions, the counselor told her that she wasn’t depressed.
With a lot of hard work and good test-taking skills, she ended up graduating on time. It was a tight squeeze, but she got her diploma. That’s all she cared about.
When Rose got her first job, she was sure that everything would be better. For a while, it seemed like it was. Rose loved the fast-paced corporate environment. It kept her moving, and she was able to thrive at her assignments. She would still doze off on the train ride to and from work.
At the office, she would sometimes snap herself awake while entering data on the computer. Without realizing it, she had continued typing even though she had fallen asleep. But she was putting in 70 hours a week, so what should she expect?
Over time, however, some other things began to happen that seemed a little strange to her. Her legs would become weak when she started laughing or got angry and she would have to sit down. A few times when she was really laughing hard, her legs completely gave out on her.
Every now and then, she also felt like there was someone holding her down on the bed when she was falling asleep or waking up. It scared her to death the first few times it happened. She was still alert, but she couldn’t move at all. It was like she was paralyzed. She thought that maybe it was just a pinched nerve. Rose was certain the problems would go away with time.
What really began to frighten her were the dreams. Rose had never really been able to remember her dreams too well. But now she was having the most vivid, realistic dreams of her life. In them she could see, hear, smell and touch things like it was all really happening. It became hard for her to distinguish her dreams from reality.
Even worse, the dreams were scaring her like never before. She often imagined that someone was breaking into her apartment or coming into her bedroom. She would wake up in a sudden panic, and sometimes she would have the feeling of not being able to move. Rose could not understand what was happening. She literally began to think that she was losing her mind.
The dreams made her afraid to go to sleep at night. This caused her to be even more tired at work. She began to fall asleep during meetings and in appointments with clients. The quality of her work declined so much that her boss ordered her to take a medical leave of absence. He thought she was just burned out and needed some rest.
By now, Rose knew that there had to be something else wrong with her. She made an appointment to see her doctor, telling the nurse that it was an emergency. When she finally got to see her doctor and tell him her story, it was the first time that she had shared with another person everything that had been happening to her. It made her feel like a burden was being lifted off her shoulders.
Her doctor asked lots of questions and gave her a routine exam. He wrote a prescription for Rose to have her blood work done at the hospital. Then he gave her the name of a sleep specialist and asked her to set up an appointment.
It was in the meeting with the sleep specialist that Rose first found out that she might have narcolepsy. That caught her completely off-guard. She knew almost nothing about it. The doctor told her he was fairly certain that she had narcolepsy, but that he wanted her to do two sleep studies to make sure.
A week later she returned to the sleep center for an overnight sleep study and then stayed for a daytime nap study. Rose was very good at napping. The results of the two studies confirmed that Rose had a severe case of narcolepsy.
She was thrilled to finally know what it was that had been causing her so many problems. It was a relief to know that she wasn’t going crazy. At the same time, she was scared because she knew so little about this disorder.
Her doctor put her on two medications: one for her sleepiness and one for the episodes of muscle paralysis. Over time, she had to try different doses and types of drugs. Eventually, her doctor found the right combination that worked best for her.
By this time she was back at work, feeling that she had a lot more energy. However, she realized that 70-hour work weeks were not for her, and she requested a transfer to a department with standard work hours.
Since then, Rose has become happily married and has given birth to two precious children. During the pregnancy she stopped taking all her medications and slept a lot.
Now, Rose has a consulting business that she runs from her house, which gives her the opportunity to stay home with her kids and take occasional naps during the day. Her children don’t always let her rest, but the life she now has is better than she ever dreamed it would be.
Reviewed by Norman J. Wilder, MD
Updated on May 11, 2006