Not All Fairytales Have a Happy Ending: Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

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Not All Fairytales Have A Happy Ending: Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

Off he rides, on his noble steed, a valiant figure, straight and tall! To wake his love with "loves' first kiss"! And prove that "true love" conquers all! – Sleeping Beauty

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep forever? It won’t seem like a bad thing for us sleep-deprived-busy-bodies. But for those who suffer from Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, will it be like a fairy tale? In the fairy tale a simple kiss can wake up the princess and there’s always a happy ending. But did you notice that when the princess fell asleep, she was unable to move forward and remained stuck in bed while the world outside keeps on living? Did you notice that the princess became oblivious to what was happening around her and that life passed her by? She was fortunate because she had her Knight in shining armor to wake her. But will that be the same if it were to happen to us? In real life a simple kiss can’t save those who suffer from Sleeping Beauty disorder. In real life, the world will continue on living while they sleep and leave them behind. Time won’t wait for them and they won’t have a whole castle that will fall asleep with them. For them, it’s always a never ending nightmare.

But first, is there even such a thing as “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome”? According to the description found at the KLS Foundation (2009) site: “Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS), also known as “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome”, is a rare and complex neurological disorder characterized by periods of excessive amounts of sleep and altered behavior.” It is not to be confused with Sleeping Princess syndrome or Somnophilia. People affected by KLS may sleep for up to 20 hours per day (hypersomnia), waking only to eat or go to the bathroom.  The start of each episode is characterized by progressive drowsiness and episodes may last for days, weeks, or even months (Southern Cross Healthcare Group, 2009).

This disorder occurs among adolescents, most commonly males. A 2008 study of 108 KLS patients found that the majority of cases were present in adolescent males, with a mean sex ratio of 3:1. The average age of onset was 15.7 years, with 81.7% experiencing their first episode between 10 and 20 years of age. Age ranged from 6 to 59 years when patients experienced their first episode. Females tended to be slightly older than males at first onset, even though they tended to experience puberty earlier. In the US population, KLS presents in Caucasians with three times the expected frequency, and with six times the expected frequency in those of Jewish heritage (Wikipedia, 2010).

During the brief periods when the patient is awake but is still having an episode, their behavior changes and as families would say often: “They turn into a completely different person.” Patients would appear “spacey” or childlike and they have experiences of confusion, disorientation, complete lack of energy (lethargy), and lack of emotions (apathy). Most patients report that everything seems out of focus, and they they are hypersensitive to noise and light. In some cases, food cravings (compulsive hyperphagia) are exhibited. Instances of uninhibited hypersexuality during an episode have also been reported (KLS Foundation, 2009).

Kleine-Levin Syndrome episodes are cyclical. When present, KLS symptoms persist for days, weeks or even months, during which time all normal daily activities stop. Individuals are not able to attend school, work or care for themselves. Most are bedridden, tired and uncommunicative even when awake. However, not everyone affected by KLS exhibits all of the symptoms previously described (KLS Foundation, 2009).

On recovery, total or partial loss of memory (amnesia) of what has happened is usual. There may be a short period of depression, or sometimes euphoria and sleeplessness. Episodes may not occur for weeks, months or even years, but then reappear without warning. Between episodes, physical and...
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