November 21st, 2014
Sleeping for two months. It happened to 15-year-old Stacey Comerford. She suffers from Kleine Levin Syndrome (KLS), also known as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. A rare neurological disorder that induces long periods of sleep interspersed with a semi-conscious state of deadened awareness.
And she’s not the only one: the condition affects about 1,000 people around the world, mainly adolescent males (70 percent). The onset of an episode is often abrupt and may be associated with flu-like symptoms. The person becomes drowsy and sleeps up to 20 hours a day.
When awake during the episode, which typically last a few days to a few weeks, sufferers often behave completely different than normal. Excessive food intake, irritability, childishness, disorientation, hallucinations, and an abnormally uninhibited sex drive may be observed, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). They also experience a lack of energy and emotions, and are not able to attend school or work or care for themselves.
The cause of KLS is still unknown, nor is there a definitive treatment. A recent study, however, may have found a possible cure. Researchers discovered that injections of a drug known as flumanezil improved the ability to pay attention and remain alert in seven patients with hypersomnia, including one with Kleine-Levin symptoms.
One participant has now taken the drug daily for four years. “Although her nightly sleep duration remained at 9 to 10 hours, she nearly always awakened refreshed without an alarm and daytime sleepiness was markedly reduced,” the researchers write. Further research is needed to find out whether flumanezil can be an effective treatment for all sleeping beauties. Luckily, episodes eventually decrease in frequency and intensity over the course of eight to 12 years.
Rye, D., Bliwise, D., Parker, K., Trotti, L., Saini, P., Fairley, J., Freeman, A., Garcia, P., Owens, M., Ritchie, J., & Jenkins, A. (2012). Modulation of Vigilance in the Primary Hypersomnias by Endogenous Enhancement of GABAA Receptors Science Translational Medicine, 4 (161), 161-161 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004685