Sleeping beauties? Exploding heads? These sleep conditions make insomnia look tame.
While many people struggle with falling and staying asleep, there are far more unusual disorders plaguing sleep-seekers. Here are five of them:
Kleine-Levin Syndrome. Also known as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, Kleine-Levin is characterized by episodes during which the affected will sleep most of the day and night, and is most common in adolescent boys. Although the cause isn’t known, “psychological stress and anxiety are known to precipitate it,” says Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston. When they do wake, patients are often confused, tired and sensitive to light and noise. Kleine-Levin is difficult to treat, but the vast majority of patients outgrow it.
Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome. Sufferers of this syndrome are on a 25- or 26-hour (or more) schedule, which means they sleep at different times every day and have no set routine. “It’s thought that they don’t have a good internal clock,” says Dr. Joanne Getsy, medical director of the Drexel Sleep Center in Philadelphia. “We have a brain pacemaker that helps us keep ourselves on track—we know when it’s time for lunch, what time to get up, what time to go to sleep. These people don’t have that intrinsic rhythm.” The syndrome is fairly common among the blind but rare in people with sight. It’s typically treated with melatonin, as well as lifestyle changes that aim to trigger the patient’s circadian rhythm.
Exploding Head Syndrome. Right as people with exploding head syndrome are falling asleep, they may feel like they’re hearing an extremely loud noise. “It’s highly connected to stress and fatigue,” says Verma. “Patients] describe it as a bomb exploding or a gun going off in their head.” Although it’s not painful, it is sometimes accompanied by shortness of breath and a quickened heart rate. The condition is most common in people over 50, and often resolves on its own, or with the help of stress-reduction techniques.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. “You’re supposed to be paralyzed when you’re dreaming, but in REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, the paralysis is gone and people actually act out their dreams,” Dr. Getsy says. More often seen in older men, this disorder can be dangerous due to the lengths people will go to act out their dreams. “If they’re having a dream in which there’s an intruder, they’ll start taking things they can reach, like night lamps,” says Dr. Verma. “In the dream, they feel they’re hitting the intruder, while in reality, they’re doing all those things to their bed partner.” Treatment with Klonopin, an anti-seizure medication also commonly prescribed for panic attacks, is successful in most cases.
Sleep-Related Eating Disorder. An extreme version of reaching for a midnight snack, sleep-related eating disorder involves partially waking up and proceeding to eat, although not always the same things you’d consume during the day. “They might take frozen pizza and try to eat it without cooking it, or might put dish soap on it,” says Dr. Verma. “They might eat non-edible things, things you would never think of.” In the morning, the person has no recollection of the nighttime noshing, and is confused if the kitchen is messy. The disorder, most common in women, is usually managed with medication, and sometimes stress relief.