Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

A 17 year old girl from Colombia, who can sleep for up to 48 days at a time, is the latest to be diagnosed with Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, a rare sleep disorder that affects only one to five people in every million.

Properly called Kleine-Levin Syndrome or KLS, it’s a form of periodic hypersomnia, meaning that she has long periods of prolonged sleep. Sufferers become progressively drowsy, and then sleep for days at a time, waking only for a couple of hours each day.

Even during this time they may be disoriented and confused, and respond as if talking in their sleep.  Suffers report that everything seems out-of-focus during these periods of “wakefulness” and being oversensitive to lights and noises.  Additionally, those with KLS can exhibit hyper-sexualised behaviour, hallucinate, or compulsively overeat. 

Between these episodes of excessive sleep those affected will show absolutely no symptoms.  They’ll be in good physical health, and will sleep normally. 

The exact cause is unknown, although researchers believe that it’s intrinsically linked with a malfunction of the hypothalamus, the pea-sized region of the brain that regulates sleep.  More common in males than females it normally it starts in adolescence, although the unfortunate girl from Columbia started with her KLS at the age of only two years old.  It normally lasts for around ten years and then disappears on its own, without any medical or surgical intervention.

The tragedy of KLS is that it progressively robs people of their childhood and formative years.  Those affected can’t go to school or work, or even care for themselves.  The great majority are bed-ridden and even during their brief periods of “wakefulness” are uncommunicative and apathetic.  They can have periods of remission where they have no symptoms of KLS at all, but they have to live every day in the knowledge that it can return without warning.

If you’d like to know more about KLS, or want to support the work of the KLS Foundation, their website can be found here. And if you found this interesting then why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with four stories every month on the quirky side of psychology and relationships.