Wide Awake and Dreaming?

Julie awoke to the sound of someone breaking into her apartment and saw a man reach out to grab her neck. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t move. When she looked up again, the man wasn’t there, and there was no sign someone had broken into her apartment. Confused, Julie concluded it must have been a vivid dream.

“But it didn’t feel like any dream I’d ever had before,” she recalls.

Later, Julie was laughing at a joke and her knees gave out. She saw several doctors, but the nighttime hallucinations and the muscle weakness persisted.

“My life was spinning out of control,” she says.

When seeing a sports specialist about a knee injury, Julie mentioned the strange way her knees sometimes gave out, and the specialist recognized that Julie had cataplexy, which is muscle weakness triggered by strong emotions. Cataplexy usually is associated with narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder of the sleep-wake cycle. Symptoms of narcolepsy include excessive daytime sleepiness, fragmented nighttime sleep, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.

“For the first time, everything came together,” Julie says.

Julie says that people often don’t understand the severity of the condition.

“For me, it’s this violent call to sleep that feels like I haven’t slept in 24 to 48 hours,” she says. “That’s the call to sleep I have. It’s so uncomfortable, and it’s so embarrassing.”

When Julie first was diagnosed, she was in law school and thought her life was over. Today, she takes medications and two short naps a day to help control the disorder. She’s also written a book and founded a non-profit group to educate and advocate for others with sleep disorders.

Web exclusive: See an extended interview with Julie.

To learn more about narcolepsy and Julie's advocacy efforts, visit the following websites:

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