Saturday, May 2, 2009

Narcolepsy, not just for your mom anymore

I'd like to take an opportunity to describe a way in which I live life a little bit differently than most people. I know a great many people I know have heard my stories before but I'm almost always ready to retell them, especially because I usually won't remember who I've told and who I haven't. Moving on.

I first realized in 11th grade that there was something seriously different with my sleeping cycle compared to 'normal' people. The experience I had requires a bit of explanation. I spent the entirety of my Junior under sleep deprivation. I would wander to bed around 2am, wake up at 6am for my extra "zero hour" class at 7am that preceded my first period class. Having that extra class would allow me one more period a day to take naps, which I did prodigiously. There was only one day that whole year that I successfully slept in all 7 of my classes, it was tough though with two computer lab type classes and my TA period in the Library. I would then go home, read, hang out, do my normal routine, which would lead me to going to bed at 2am once more. I'd do this all week until the weekend and on friday and saturday nights I would sleep for about 12-13 hours to catchup. I did this for months, literally through to the end of my junior year. My parents are a bit spacey, and didn't seem to notice my lack of sleeping, but then they didn't really have reason to worry because despite sleeping in 4-5 classes a day on average, I had a b+ grade average.

All that information is just the grounds upon which I leap into the relatively weird part. One day in english, I had my headphones on. For those of you who know me this is far from unusual as I have my headphones on for pretty much anything I can manage, and if they're not on my head, they're around my neck and probably still playing something. Anyway, I began a song and laid my head down on my desk, without even a pretense of working as my teacher was used to it and I still accomplished all the work he wanted out of me. I woke suddenly to my friend shaking me and saying, "Are...are you okay?" Responding with the usual triggered response, "Yeah, I'm fine, other than being tired, why?" She proceeded to explain that she had seen my eyes "wigging out" and it freaked her out and so she woke me up. To be clear my family has an issue (I won't dignify something so insignificant as a disorder) that we sleep with our eyes partially open, that's how said friend saw my eyes "wigging out". After eliciting more detail on what my eyes had been doing, I figured out that they had been rapidly vibrating back and forth as described to happen in REM state sleep, which is the restful state of sleep, among other descriptions. That makes this experience so unusual is putting together three things. I mentioned my headphones because I noticed that I hadn't finished the song I'd laid my head down to when taking that little nap, so it had been less than five minutes I'd been asleep. Combine that with hitting REM Sleep and that REM state sleep normally comes at about 90 minutes after falling asleep, which I reached in less than 5. After spurring myself to research REM sleep, I found out that early REM in sleep cycles is a sign of narcolepsy, which contrary to popular belief includes sleeping disorders beyond just falling asleep uncontrollably.

This makes a lot of sense as my Father has a sleeping disorder, although a bit different than I've ever heard of before or since. Everybody has what are called circadian rhythms which is your your body's way of controlling your sleep cycles. You can find all the technical details on the wikipedia page, or a reliable website. Regardless, one of the things that Circadian rhythms control is turning off your ability to move while asleep so as to prevent self injury while acting out the more vivid of your dreams, in sleepwalkers this malfunctions in that they get up, walk around, in some cases even conversing or doing other rather complex activities. In my father, his Circadian rhythms kick that sleep paralysis in early, so he'll be completely awake, on his way to sleeping, but be completely unable to move. Not physically damaging, but pretty F-ing scary if you are a kid growing up and have no idea what's going on.

I know I'd always been good at cat naps, recovering from sleep deprivation, sleeping whenever I felt like, things like that, but I never knew why for the longest time. That's a thought. Granted this is all slapped together by yours truly and having never gone to a doctor because of it, I have no official confirmation, so I advise taking this with a grain of salt, as I could be full of it.

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