Sleeping Beauty Syndrome & Other Sleep Disorders You’ve Never Heard Of
Imagine having permanent jet lag. While this sounds like it could be Dante’s tenth circle of hell, it’s a daily reality for sufferers of "Non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder" or "Free Running Disorder" (FRD). Most people’s circadian rhythms are naturally tied to a 24-hour clock, mediated in large part by light levels in their environment. For a small percentage of people, most of whom are completely blind, their circadian rhythms don’t align with light/dark patterns.
This means that they’re constantly left one or two hours out of sync with the rest of society. Sufferers of FRD find it extremely difficult to get to sleep at a consistent time, which results in chronic sleep deprivation for those who try to force themselves to stick to a normal schedule. Treatment is limited and lifestyle adjustments are often the only realistic solution. Technically, this is a 'circadian rhythm disorder' rather than a true sleep disorder.
Being a few hours out of sync can be debilitating in the long term, but sufferers of another disorder, "Sleeping Beauty Syndrome," are left completely out of commission for weeks at a time. You know those terrible mornings when you get a full night of sleep but still feel exhausted? Ever felt that way after sleeping for 23 hours? That’s a regular day for sufferers of Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS) or Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. KLS patients – of which there are only about 1000 worldwide – experience cyclical patterns of extreme sleepiness, sleeping between 15 and 21 hours a day. During the few hours they spend awake, they’re typically incoherent, exhibiting tantrums, raging hunger and/or sex drive, and confusion. It’s most common in male adolescents and responds inconsistently to treatment.
If you think Sleeping Beauty Syndrome is an odd name for a disorder, try "Exploding Head Syndrome." (No actual exploding heads involved, fortunately). Exploding Head Syndrome is sort of like that sudden falling feeling many people get woken up by once in a while, except that instead of falling, there’s an incredibly loud (imagined) explosion. The noise is often compared to a gunshot or thunderclap. The frequency of this sudden awakening is highly variable, with some patients experiencing just a few episodes followed by complete remission, and some facing the sound multiple times per night. The cause of this parasomnia is unknown, and treatments are in the experimental stage.
Tossing and turning once in a while may seem like a walk in the park compared to these disorders, but bear in mind that plain old sleep deprivation has devastating effects on your health as well. If you regularly have trouble sleeping, make sure you cover your bases with a consistent routine and properly fitted mattress. That said, if you feel that your sleep symptoms border on the unusual, make sure to run them by your health professional.