Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spontaneous Slumber

Modern neurology and biology has come so far in such a short amount of time. However, there's one area that still manages to ellude us:


The nature of sleep is still a mystery. We all do it. We're told we need to get 6-8 hours of it. If you don't get enough of it, you become a zombie. Sleep is necessary. Many of us are insomniacs, and getting enough sleep is a challenge at times. The pharmaceutical industry comes out with all new kinds of pills to help us sleep.

But what if you fell asleep too easily?

At first glance, that might seem like a great problem to have. However, what if you spontaneously fell asleep without warning? Think about're walking around town, laughing at a joke, and suddenly you lose all muscle control and collapse to the ground. Spontaneous slumber.

This is a very real form of narcolepsy called cataplexy. What exactly happens to someone suffering from cataplexy?

A person with cataplexy can be watching TV, walking in a mall, or playing cards. Often times, strong emotions trigger this sleep disorder. Suddenly out of nowhere, the person loses all muscle control and experiences physical paralysis. They will slump over and collapse onto the floor. Their conscious mind is quite aware...but they cannot move, they cannot speak. This episode may last a few seconds...or several minutes.

How does a person develop this strange disorder? It seems about two-thirds of those suffering from narcolepsy get cataplexy. Interestingly, patients experience their first cataplexic episode in adolescence. Why? It's all part of the mystery.

Studies say that 140,000 Americans suffer from this affliction. But what is the cause? Researchers believe it all starts with the chemical hypocretin that's made by the hypothalamus in the brain. For some reason, the cells that create hypocretin are absent and this often leads to sleep disorders like cataplexy. There is a hypothesis that narcolepsy in general could be an autoimmune disease...a person's own antibodies attack the neurons responsible for hypocreatin. Researchers have not established the likelihood of cataplexy being genetic, although it seems to be inherited in other animals, like dogs for example.

What can be done? Is there a cure for cataplexy? At this moment, there is no cure. There is a lot of research and drug testing being done, and the best they've been able to do is treat the symptoms. Sodium oxybate is the first and only product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of cataplexy. Patients have decreased attacks after taking this drug.

But those suffering from cataplexy must always be accompanied by others. Their lives are miserable. Think about the jobs they cannot do like being a surgeon, dentist, construction worker, speed skater, lifeguard, or ninja. Seriously, they are constantly dependent on others to help them while having an episode. If you want to see video footage of an adult man having a cataplexic attack, click HERE (avi format). This video is wild! You see him laughing and smiling, and the guy just crumples onto the ground while playing a game with the researcher.

Here's five other strange sleeping disorders:

1)Fragmentary myoclonus: These are people that continually jerk and twitch while they sleep, usually in non-REM sleep. It's harmless, unless the person accidentally hurts themselves in the process.

2)Night terrors: Children are more likely to suffer from these. Your child may start crying or screaming, usually during the first two hours within falling asleep. This is not the same as a nightmare. Night terrors result from a child coming out of deep sleep and somehow getting stuck. Most of us slightly wake up, adjust our covers, maybe even glance at the clock and go right back to sleep. These poor suffers aren't able to fully pull out of the deep sleep and it triggers an episode (my son suffered from this, so I did a lot of research).

3)Sleep choking syndrome: This just sounds so freaky to me. With this disorder, a person will have several episodes of choking while sleeping. They'll wake up with a feeling of anxiety or panic. They do not have obstructive sleep apnea or any other physical cause for choking.

4)Sleep walking: Interestingly, this disorder occurs in that same stage as the night terror. A person initially dives into a deep sleep and then slowly comes up after an hour or two. Sometimes, a person gets stuck between the two stages of sleep and weird things can happen. A person might sit up, get out of bed, walk around, maybe even get dressed...or they could suffer from:

5)Nocturnal eating syndrome: When you get stuck between deep sleep and lighter sleep, you might get out of bed, go to the kitchen, and eat raw meat or BBQ sauce straight from the bottle. These people are actually asleep when they do all this. Recently, several people taking Ambien are experiencing night eating. Not only do sufferers gain a tremendous amount of weight, but they feel emotional distraught and helpless.

6)Old Hag Syndrome: No, it's not a case where you wake up after a night of hard partying and find yourself next to the fugliest person in the universe. It's when a person wakes up, but cannot move. They feel the presence of pure evil in the room. Many say it's like the evil entity is actually sitting on their chest. The scientific explanation is that it's a case of sleep paralysis. It's when the brain has been dreaming, and for some reason, even upon starting to wake up, the brain continues to dream.

All of these disorders can be debilitating to various degrees, however cataplexy can strike at any moment. Cataplexy sufferers are held prisoners by this disorder, and they could injure themselves or others while having an episode. The complete utter loss of muscle control is what makes this disorder so dangerous.

Thinking back to elementary school, I swear my bus driver had cataplexy.


BrianAlt said...

I disagree. Cataplexy sufferers can be ninjas! Just not for very long.

I've already written my check to the American Cataplexy Society. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Perplexio said...

I think one of my ex girlfriends suffered from cataplexy. She'd spontaneously "fall asleep" in the most unusual circumstances.

It was truly bizarre.

phlegmfatale said...

Wow - I know 2 people who say that sleep paralysis has happened to them - they insist a ghost was sitting on their chest or pinning them down. Funny how common that is, isn't it?

Perplexio said...

Maybe I'm just a sick f*ck but I actually successfully tried to put myself in a state of sleep paralysis. My eyes were open and I was completely cognizant of my surroundings but I could not my limbs... I was essentially numb from the neck down. I found it to be a rather unique experience but I've never been able to duplicate it... but something tells me that's probably a GOOD thing.

Denny Shane said...

I find this entire study to be extremely

Fated said...

I can't even imagine how horrible it would be to have and of these disorders. Anywhere in your adventures did you come across anything about people who dream they are falling on a near daily basis?

Mmmm bottle of bbq sauce

cube said...

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Penis said...

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Curare_Z said...

The Antidote has a weird disorder where he, essentially, lives his dreams. Most are terrifying, some are not. He's had this condition since he was a kid...his parents had to warn babysitters. I can't tell you how many times I've woken up to him telling me about the person coming out of the ceiling or speaking in some weird accent to beings he's encountering. He even called the police once (before we met) because he SWORE someone was scaling the outside walls to his apartment building.

The scary part is that he did a sleep study and they said he never falls into REM. So this is happening before he goes into a deep sleep.

They have no idea what it we put up with it, instead of having him be on medication for the rest of his life.

Maybe he has a connection with Serpo. I'm going to have to investigate that.....

LostInTX said...

My friend's kid suffered from night terrors. I was there once when it happened and it was really bad...almost like something was possessing her.

I've had the temporary sleep paralysis too. My mind has woken up but my eyes wouldn't open and I couldn't move at all. I had to concentrate really hard to move just one finger and finally broke the paralysis.. it sucks and feels awful although I don't remember feeling an evil entity on my chest.

Ben Heller said...

My Boss suffers from sleep apnea. He always looks awful,like a Zombie. He's 36 and he looks about 50 because of it. Not nice.

The Phoenix said...

It seesm so many people have sleeping issues and/or disorders...

Science has a lot to learn about sleep, and hopefully, new treatments can restore some sort of normalcy for people.

I'm so glad "penis" stopped by. I should get him in contact(literally) with Semen Semenov of Siberia.

:P fuzzbox said...

Good overview. But you didn't mention sexual somnambulism.

David Amulet said...

I have the oddest sleeping disorder.

When I lay down my head at night, I often have images and sounds go through my head. They seem so life-like ... it's almost as if these scenes are actually happening to me! I often forget the specifics when I wake up, but I know these stories are being played in my head.

Help me, Phoenix, help me! What is this affliction that curses me so?!?

-- david

Karen said...

"Old Hag Syndrome"
hmmmmmmmmmmmm, won't touch that one with a ten foot pole... :-)

...but the sleep thingy is serious & an a fascinating subject to explore.

My sister-in-law fell asleep at the wheel about a month ago, rolled her SUV & of course, totaled it but she walked away! Talk about lucky!! whew!!

Perplexio said...

Phoenix - I was trying to figure out the connection between sleeping disorders and semen production myself. The only connection I could make was wet dreams/nocturnal emissions, but even that seemed to be a bit of a stretch.

Since the link does lead to a site about penile enlargement, "stretch" may be just the connection that penis was trying to make between your post and his link.

:P fuzzbox said...

I recently watched a documentery on severe narcolepsy and catoplexy. A couple of the interviewees would have their breathing and heart rate slow down so dramatically that they had awoken in the morgue.

They believe through some research that a gland in the brain is not putting out the compound that works as a switch in the brain that turns on and off allowing us to sleep so they are in a permenent off positon and can not wake up. They did not expand on it but it led me to wonder if there was an excess amount of this compound then the brain would be locked in the on position and cause insomnia.

Perplexio said...

fuzzbox: Did the documentary mention the possibility of people being buried alive due to that switch remaining in the "off" position?

It kind of makes me wonder if someday archaeologists will stumble upon caskets with fingernail claw/scratch marks on the inside of the casket from people trying to get out.

The Phoenix said...

Perplexio, I can't believe you hit the link. Now they'll trace it back here and I'll get attacked by penis spam.

Historically speaking, ancient people believed those with cataplexy and other disorders were possessed. And you know what they did with possessed do you like your witches cooked?

Fuzz, I saw the same documentary on TLC. That's what inspired me to do this post. That poor 14 year old girl...she was having episodes just standing there talking with her friends. I really felt awful for her.

Jamie Dawn said...

This is very weird. I have that Hag Syndrome.
My hubby will laugh when he hears this, but I am not kidding. This happens to me only in the morning when I'm kind of between awake & asleep. I feel afraid, like there's something scary in the room, but I can't even open my eyes. I am awake in my mind and try to force myself to get up because I know that when I do, all will be okay. I think that maybe I'm not really awake, and it is all a dream, but it sure feels like I am awake in my mind.
It is a scary thing and doesn't happen very often. I've gotten to where I can feel when this is about to happen, and I've been able to get up before it overtakes my ability to move. I know this sounds like a lie, but it is real.
Very, very weird that you said this actually has a name. I'm not too pleased with what the condition is called though.
It's funny that I don't think about this at all until it happens, or I feel like it is about to happen and I get up as quickly as possible to avoid being trapped by it. The fact that you wrote about it just stuns me!

Perplexio said...

Phoenix - Yes, one such witch once turned me into a Newt, and even though I got better when we determined she weighed the same as a duck and was thus made of wood (thus she was indeed a witch) we had her burned at the stake.

And I apologize in advance for any penis-spam you may receive. Speaking of penises (Peni?) and spam... there's a song on Chicago III which mentions both:

Now I usually have my breakfast which consists of tasty spam
Yeeeaaah, I could eat it all day long
But I only love one brand, but I can't find it out here
So, I have to take a pass, settle for some hash
When I drive and you're not here
Oh sweet, sweet spam
(from: An Hour In the Shower: A Hard Risin' Mornin' Without Breakfast)

Now I lay me down to sleep
And dream of my treasure map
It shows me
Things my maypole's buried at
And I dream of all the fun I have
When my maypole comes out to play
Yeah, and I dream things I can't say
Or I'll get put away
So now, I better stop
Before I give them all away
from An Hour in the Shower: Fallin' Out

Hard to believe that the same band that gave us such cavity inducing drivel as You're the Inspiration and Look Away once performed a song detailing the joys of eating spam for breakfast and masturbating before going to sleep at night (in the same song no less!)

Tasa said...

I wonder if that was the disorder that the character played by Rowan Atkinson (mr bean) on Rat Race had? He would randomly fall asleep at the most climatic moments ^_^;;

Perplexio - lol good ol' MP

Keshi said...

OMG Phoenix I suffer from Old Hag Syndrome and all this time I was thinking some ghost was raping!


crallspace said...

Interesting stuff. I think that video was fake... at least It looked like it.

I have some wierd sleeping habits but I wouldn't call them disorders. When I go to sleep after drinking lots of alcohol, I wake up @ 3am as thirsty as can be. In my dreams, I drink glass after glass of water and can't quench the thirst.

The Phoenix said...

jamie dawn, Whoa...that sounds really spooky. You're lucky you've at least got the ability to feel the "old hag" about to arrive.

perplexio, It's tough to imagine this song came from the same Chicago.

tasa, it sounds like it. All I know is that Rowan guy is just so funny looking.

keshi, Um...too much information.

crallspace, The video is from a sleep study, actually. It's real. They taped dogs and humans having these attacks.
It sounds like you're just plain dehydrated, and your dreams reflect that. Maybe you should keep a big jug of water next to your bed.

crallspace said...

I usually do keep about a half gallon of water nearby. The nights I forget I always regret. Hey that rhymed.

Keshi said...

**keshi, Um...too much information.


ok u know why I said that...cos I sometimes feel some force is on top of me smothering my whole's really frightening tho...


the weirdgirl said...

I saw something on TV about a certain breed of goat that, when startled, becomes temporarily paralyzed (this is while they're awake though). It was really sad.

I sleep talk (sit up in bed) and sometimes even sleepwalk (though usually I wake myself up getting out of bed). It's interesting to hear that it's a "stuck" state between dreaming and waking, because on the rare occasions I remember doing it I usually have this double memory. One memory of the dream, and another memory of watching myself getting out of bed/sitting up/etc. Like I'll still be in the dream but I also can see my bedroom and what I'm doing. It's really weird.

How long do the night terror sessions usually last? My son occasionally starts crying without waking up, a loud, very freaked out sounding cry. I thought it was nightmares but... I usually pick him up and talk to him quietly until he settles down. He usually doesn't wake up.

RAVEN the PITA said...

I've never heard of that - good info Phoenix!

Haas said...

Neat work :)

I had written a story about the same problem a long time back

DaBich said...

Wow! My hubby told me I called him a nasty name in the middle of the night a while back. I was outta here. Maybe he isn't lying! lol Thing is, I was probably dreaming about my job and cussing at my boss!

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

"No, it's not a case where you wake up after a night of hard partying and find yourself next to the fugliest person in the universe"

I have some male friends that would highly disagree with you there...:)

Oh I'm all tired. Need. More. Coffee.

The Phoenix said...

crallspace, You're a poet!

keshi, sounds pretty scary. People report absolute terror and the presence of evil in the room. Make me wonder just what the hell our subconscious mind is made of.

WG, doctors have found a very very strong genetic connection with regards to sleepwalking and night terrors. They are essentially very closely related.
You'll notice, Chance will have a night terror usually within the first two hours within falling asleep.
My son had them early as well, just before one. Doctors say a vast majority will outgrow it by the time they start school.
There is a strong correlation between body temp. and night terrors. Parents that remove socks or forgo the footies, blankets, and all the toys on the bed have reported a reduction in night terrors.

raven and haas, Thanks. Sleep issues seem to be a major problem for a lot of people.

dabich, I had a fraternity brother that cussed people out in his sleep. I thought it was funny.

stacy, Get your java groove on...some people need help kickstarting in the morning.

ozymandiaz said...

Ah, but cataplexy isn't actualy a sleepind siddorder is it? Being that the subject doesn't actually go to sleep.

KC said...

Many, many years ago I was awakened by my sleeping partners screams. It made my blood run cold. I was almost too afraid to open my eyes because I thought for sure there must be someone in the room who was trying to kill him. I did, however, work up the nerve to shake him awake. When I asked him what he was dreaming about, he said that he was running away from a used car salesman who was insisting that he buy a mini-van. No kidding. This is the dream that was making him scream.

We broke up soon afterwards.

Charlie said...

I agree with all of.....

Huh? Where am I?

Dirk the Feeble said...

That video was cool. It reminds me of this one time that me and Bernie Maxwell got a keg and stayed up WAY past midnight . . .

Jennifer said...

Have you seen Rusty the narcoleptic dog?

I'm going to hell for laughing.

The Phoenix said...

Ozy, their bodies literally go into a state of sleep paralysis, like what happens when you fall asleep normally. Being a form of narcolepsy, it does fall under the sleep disorder realm. But it's weird, since their minds are totally aware.

KC, "Sleeping partners?" I've never heard that one. What a funny (not ha ha funny) nightmare to be having.

charlie, I think you're a sleepwalker. Get back to bed and dream of making more beautiful music.

Dirk, I still want to call you Armaedes. Anyway - I've seen that in person myself, having lived in a frat house.

Jennifer, Yeah - I saw that footage on here and on TV. I feel sorry for the dog, but I couldn't help but laugh too. They showed another dog getting a treat - and since happiness is a main trigger, he kept dozing over and over again.

PDD said...

I have "Old Hag Syndrome/Sleep Paralysis". Except I don't feel a heavy weight on my chest. It is true I definitely feel an evil force in the room. This was a frequent thing when I was younger and I literaly thought I was being posessed. I don't get it nearly as much as I used to but it does still occur from time to time.

Interesting that it has to do with dreaming; I have lucid dreams. Always have. I can remember them very well even as far as when I was 4 yrs old. I find that I have no problem controlling my dreams. I can eliminate certain things, add certain things - custom make my dreams the way I want them to appear. I am also very aware that I am dreaming most of the time, and if anything strikes me as interesting or important, I will make a mental note while I am dreaming to remember it. Sometimes to secure the memory of it I will replay it, sometimes several times. I can also taste, smell, touch in my dream. It really is quite amazing actually. I am serious. Everything I have just explained and described is true, just in case you think I am kidding around. I'm not.

I have never tried or excercised to dream like this on purpose. It was just always like this. What does this mean? Is this common? Is it rare? Could I be an Eben?

The Phoenix said...

Yeah, that's lucid/active dreaming alright. You have the ability to keep your conscious mind actively working while you sleep. It's rare, and it's really sort of a skill everyone can develop.

I have had problems with very lucid dreams, but they were always bad. I didn't have the control and ability to manipulate things as you do. The lucid dreaming led to me not getting much sleep, which led to me getting really grump. Eventually it led to depression.

Luckily, I found a cure and I've been able to sleep with more normal dreams. Now I get plenty of rest.

So no, PDD, you are NOT Eben. The stuff is amazing, huh? Even the pics and stuff?

Bruce said...

Eons ago, when I was in my 20s, I had periods where I would wake up, but not be able to move. Luckily, it would only last a few seconds(although it seemed like an eternity). I had a boss at my last job(he has since passed away) that suffered from sleep apnea. Being a college graduate, and having an IQ in triple digits(unlike my co-workers), I understood what was happening with him. Everyone else just thought he was an old drunk. Anyway, there would be times when you would walk by his office, and he'd be sound asleep in the middle of the day.

Janet said...

I remember a guy in college saying that the key to sleep was that you had to sleep in even hour intervals. 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. Then, and only then, you wer good.

It's a ridiculous theory, but it stuck with me nonetheless.:)

Keshi said...

yep and all the while I was indeed thinking it's some evil sure feels that way.


HW said...

OH MY GOD -- I totally have that Old Hag thing. I thought I was crazy until my younger sister described similar episodes to me a few weeks ago. I just thought I was nuts. This is so freakin' wierd.

grrrbear said...

The GF has the Fragmentary Myciropartia (or whatever it is - the twitches) right when she falls asleep. Sometimes I wonder if, as she gets older, these fits will become more violent and I'll start to bruise. Then I'll have to come up with elaborate stories about falling down stairs at work like the battered wife characters on Lifetime...

The Phoenix said...

It's still incredible to hear how so many people suffer from one sleeping disorder or another. No wonder we're all so cranky.

grrrbear, don't get me started about Lifetime. No need to talk about movies like "My Stepson My Lover" or "Another Woman's Husband."

Will said...

Fascinating. I must confess that my knowledge in science is seriously lacking, but this blog is - dare i say - awesome. I, myself can never seem to get to sleep, though I blame that on mid-afternoon caffeine.

The Phoenix said...

Thanks Will...I'm glad you stopped by. It sounds like you lack a little sleep, actually.

The body's natural biorhythms want to take a nap around 3 PM.

Will said...

Really. Napping is something I've never been able to do.

The Phoenix said...

Hmmm...two things:

1)You're right, the late afternoon caffeine stays with you for several hours. Maybe not having any past 2 PM will help.

2)Your body is tuned to light and darkness. To nap, you have to have it completely dark. It signals sleep to the body.

3)I fall asleep to C-Span very easily. Give it a try.

delmer said...

I believe I've had Old Hag Syndrome once or twice, at least. (Unless I had something else unnamed in your article). Once I'd been asleep on vacation. I woke up and could see something about the size of ET a few steps from me. He ran at me, jumped on my back and punched me in the ribs three or four times ... I could feel the punches. I couldn't move and remember trying to make some sort of sound.

After a few moments I was fine. There was no sign of the ET-sized thing near me. I figured it must have been some sort of dream. Similar things happened, just a couple of time, while I was in college. I was 23 during the struggle with ET.

delmer said...

I forgot to mention. My oldest boy gets night terrors now -- just as you describe.

Within an hour or two of going to bed he will sometimes make noises that suggest to me he's having some sort of bad dream. I thought it was nightmares.

Sometimes I'll go in and try to wake him fully up, just so he knows someone's there.

The Phoenix said...

Delmer, make sure he's not covered up too much. For some reason, kids are more prone to night terrors when they are too hot. My son will sometimes cover his head, and I'll have to go in and remove the blanket from his head.

Also, going in there and slightly waking them before they have a night terror might help them pull out of the deep sleep.

When they get stuck from trying to come out of the deep stage is when they have night terrors. I'll go in and just adjust my son's blankets, remove it from his head, or just do a little something to just barely wake him up.

The rest of us do that OK on our own...we'll adjust our covers, maybe change positions. Some people, especially children, just aren't able to go from one stage of sleep into the other as smoothly at times.

Sherri said...

I suffer from lots of these symptoms, unfortunately, so do my kids. I feel bad, I feel like I've passed it on to them.

Anonymous said...

I have cataplexy and sleep parallysis is a symptom of this. People with cataplexy have little or no hypoceatin in their brain. Hypocreatin is what keeps you from falling own when laughing. In the UK they are working on a hypocreatin shot that will be givin daily, sort of like incilin for diabetics

Mathew Stephen said...

What you said is so true, there is more things to explore about dreams but I'm not sure what are dreams that comes in the minds of people while living in this world.

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