Hypersomnia Foundation

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Sleeping Through Life: My Experience as a Hypersomniac

When I wake up, pure unadulterated panic with a side of adrenaline courses through my body as I try to make sense of the world around me: what day is it? IS IT day? Or night? What’s happened while I’ve been asleep? Have I let anyone down (agaifullsizerendern)? Did I do anything in my sleep? Did I bear the brunt of any social media pile ons? Did someone hack my social media and out me (again)? Did I sleep through any holidays or birthdays?

I’m sure you’re reading this thinking: woah, woah, woah! Don’t catastrophize! It’s alright! You just went to sleep! It’s not like the world ends every time you go to sleep! You’re right! But..you’re also wrong.

If you’re like the typical person, you do your nighttime routine (don’t we all have one?) throw on your PJs and you crawl between your sheets, so grateful for the sweet, sweet embrace of your bed. And then, ideally, you wake up 8 hours later with nothing eventful happening in between, feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to tackle the day….right?! Totally!

Unlike most people, when I go to bed at night, I don’t know when I’m going to wake up because I have hypersomnia (hyper = from the Greek meaning over, somnia = from the Latin meaning sleep). I need to get at least 12 hours of sleep to avoid getting sick (separate issue: dysautonomia/POTS) but I usually sleep around 14 hours a night, sometimes longer. As an infant and child I often slept 16-18 hours. My mom said that it was hard for her to do anything with my older siblings because everything had to revolve around my sleep schedule. I can’t imagine how difficult that was.

Fast forward: as a 19-year-old, I had just started seeing a guy, and my mom was supposed to come into town and I was so excited to pick her up from the airport the next day. That night I went to a party with the guy I had been seeing and the next morning I was still so tired (legitimately tired) so I took a nap at his house. My mom’s plane landed and she couldn’t get ahold of me. She was terrified. She called and she called and she called with no answer.

I finally got ahold of her over two days later. I had been asleep the whole time. I wasn’t under the influence of anything other than my own body. I was just so exhausted and not from anything I did. I felt so incredibly miserable when I saw my mom. She was truly distraught. She had contacted the police (obviously) who had told her I had probably just been having fun. The worst part of the whole thing was that this wouldn’t be the last time hypersomnia would cause me to scare or disappoint someone I loved…it wouldn’t even be the last time I did it to my mom. I slept through Thanksgiving when it was just the two of us and she was waiting for my call.

Hypersomnia is letting people down. It’s missing out on life. It’s sleeping through classes and exams and not being able to tell your professors what’s going on because they won’t understand and when you’ve tried in the past to be open and honest it’s backfired. Hypersomnia is depression, anxiety, stigma and people being afraid to talk about those things because maybe they’re afraid of being mentally ill and further marginalized by the medical community (and maybe there’s some internalized ableism there, too). It’s sleeping through your cat’s insulin…and earthquakes…and fire alarms. It’s sleeping so long that when you try and eat you get sick because your body has gone without food and water for so long. Hypersomnia is missing out on the things that matter MOST to you, the moments you can’t get back, with people who are now gone forever…and having to reconcile that with yourself and the ones who are still here. Hypersomnia is brain fog and sleep inertia. It’s having trouble telling what happened when you were asleep and what happened when you were awake (the blurring of dream and reality.) Hypersomnia is disability for some of us and impacted relationships for most.

Hypersomnia feels like going under general anesthesia. It’s like being drugged. When the feeling takes hold of you you can’t fight it. It’s like being dragged under water when you can’t swim and you’re tired of trying to pretend you can, you’ve spent so much time and energy pretending you can.

Yes, I spend my life sleeping. But… at the same time I spend my life dreaming, and a lot of the time, I spend my life dreaming of beautiful things, fantastical things, hopeful things.


Jennie Murray is the author of JourneyOfIsaJennie.Wordpress.Com where she blogs about a wide variety of issues. All views are her own.

Posted in: Share the Journey Stories, SomnusNooze

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Communicating With Your New Doctor About Your (or Your Child’s) Rare Disorder

Note: In this article, the word “you” will be used to mean both you and your child.

You will need different kinds of doctors to help you with your rare disease. Specialists will know the most about your disease and which specific treatments are best. Many times, several specialists will be needed to help with specific parts of your disease. Doctors who treat people with rare diseases often know other specialists around the country or world and can help you find someone near your new home who is specialist in your disease. However, they are not usually the doctors who will help manage all the various parts of your care.

When you move, one of the most important new people will be your primary care doctor. This doctor will form your medical home, a compassionate, accessible, cooperative, family-centered place where you can develop a relationship and get help to coordinate your care. Most often, it will be up to the individual to find a new primary care doctor. How can you find a primary care doctor to help care for you when you have a rare disease?

It is important to know what you should consider when looking for a new primary care doctor. A good medical home works best when the doctor, their staff and you, the patient, form a team. You should feel comfortable with the doctor; be able to ask questions; have a sense the person is willing to work with you and your specialist(s), is willing to manage complex issues and coordinate care, and is open to learning about you and your rare disease. You also must be willing to be part of the team and communicate clearly and honestly with your new primary care doctor about your condition. Mutual respect will be key to building a successful relationship with your new primary care doctor. It may take several visits before you feel comfortable and develop a relationship. Sometimes you may need to see more than one primary care doctor until you find one that is best for you.

Someone with a rare disease may be a challenge for the primary care doctor. They may never have seen a person with your specific disease. You can help by providing some information about not only yourself, but also your disease. This may be a review article or reference about your disease or a website dedicated to your disease. Keep in mind that most primary care physicians have busy clinic days and are limited in the amount of time they are able to devote to each patient. It may be unrealistic to expect the primary care doctor will ever achieve the degree of in-depth knowledge about a rare disorder and the most recent research on it that you will have. The goal is not for your primary care doctor to become an expert on your specific disease (that is why you have a specialist), but to understand the problems related to the disease and be able to coordinate care with your specialist(s).

Prior to your first appointment, make copies of important documents to take with you. Consider making a binder or electronic file of important information and your own summary. Ask your previous specialist for a summary letter describing your disease, your specific problems, and your current treatments. This is very valuable for the busy primary care doctor who may not have the time to go through extensive records. These will be helpful not only for your new primary care doctor, but also any new specialists you see. You should also get a copy of your medical records from your specialists, hospitals where you were admitted, and your previous primary care doctor. A few key records you should get are the following:

  1. A copy of the specialist note when you first received your diagnosis, and the note from the most recent visit with your specialist.
  2. Copies of any tests that helped make the diagnosis—blood tests or tests on other body fluids (urine, spinal fluid, tissues remove for biopsies or operations), imaging (regular x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, echocardiography, etc.), special diagnostic tests (lung function, sleep studies, psychological tests, etc.). If you have the actual image tests on a disc, that would be very helpful. You have rights to all your records (paper and images on disc) from all of your providers (including any hospital). Many providers do charge for copies. It is particularly helpful to get these before you move, as sometimes they can be hard to obtain later.
  3. If you have had tests after your diagnosis as a regular follow up of your disease, you should get copies of those as well.
  4. If you have had an operation or been admitted to the hospital, a copy of the Discharge Summary is essential. If possible, the Operative Notes for your surgeries are also useful.
  5. For children, a copy of the growth chart or a list of the weight, length, and head circumference over time.
  6. For children and adults, the immunization record.
  7. A list of current medications and the dose, any previous medications that were discontinued because they were not effective or caused side effects, and any allergies. Include experimental treatments, vitamins, supplements, herbal therapies, physical/occupational therapy, chiropractor—essentially anything you use to make your disease better.

The primary care doctor may not need to see all of these. You can refer to them during visits as needed.
Remember that your medical home with your new primary care doctor will be key to coordinating all other aspects of your health care. It may take time to find the right physician and home and to build an open and honest relationship. However, a good medical home, with you as the focus of the team, will help coordinate services and provide comprehensive care and ensure that you stay healthy.

Bonita Fung, MD, and Kim McBride, MD, Bexley, OH

Posted in: Journey, Share the Journey Stories, SomnusNooze

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The Blight on My Daughter’s Life

I gave birth to my daughter at 7:28 pm after 33 hours of labor. I was worn out, so I relinquished my baby to the care of the nurses within a couple hours to get some sleep. I didn’t see Cait again till 6:00 am. And, for the first year and a half of her life, if I put her down at 7:00 pm I knew I wouldn’t hear from her again till 8:00 the next morning. In retrospect, I wonder if it was an omen of what was to come.

Cait settled into normal sleep-wake patterns as a toddler. Toward the end of grade school, though, I remember that, if I took us out to dinner, she would invariably complain of being tired. I kept having to tell her not to lay her head on the table in restaurants.HPIM0292.JPG

Through her adolescence, I learned the hard way that it was best not to say anything to her early in the morning. “Not a morning person” was the understatement of the decade.

Cait completed her first bachelor’s degree on schedule and stayed on to get another BA and earn a teacher’s certificate, having settled on a career path late. It was during that program that the wheels came off. She lost motivation. Her sunny disposition disappeared. She earned the BA but couldn’t complete the certificate. After about 5 months living with a friend and making no headway with a job hunt, she moved in with her step-dad and me.

She landed a job. I thought she’d gotten her feet under her. But then she just tanked—spent all her time in bed except for when she had to work. It looked like depression to me. She found a counselor. Eventually she agreed to take antidepressants. Her mood lifted, but the fatigue didn’t go away. Her doctor checked her B-12 and her thyroid and screened for Lyme disease. She was sent for a sleep study and diagnosed with mild sleep apnea. She invested in a CPAP machine and used it faithfully. It didn’t help. She kept going back to the sleep study site asking why, and they would ask, “Do you meditate? Do you exercise? How much protein are you eating?”

Five months later, she thought she might have had a mini seizure. She was referred to a neurologist who happened to be a sleep specialist. The pre-appointment questionnaire drilled down on questions about sleep, and Cait answered them fervently. On her first visit, this doctor quickly resolved the question she came with and then said, “But I think you have another problem and it isn’t sleep apnea.” It was another month before a sleep study with MSLT confirmed it, but, when we did the Internet search that night, we knew he was right. Idiopathic Hypersomnia.

I hate this blight on my daughter’s life. I’m her alarm clock. I pack her lunch daily and make sure she has a good dinner every night. She doesn’t have energy for anything except her job. What kind of life is this? She’s planning now to move back to Illinois where she has a cadre of friends and a beloved church community within a 15-minute drive radius. I want her to have a life of her own, but I wonder, “Can she pull this off? Will she have the support she needs?” How I hate this blight on my daughter’s life!!

Ellen Swinford

Germantown, MD

Posted in: Awareness, idiopathic hypersomna, Journey, Share the Journey Stories

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Idiopathic Hypersomnia – A Turtle Going Uphill Through Molasses in January

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Words escape me. I am a reader, a writer, and a highly educated woman with multiple degrees. Eloquence is high on my list of valued traits. Communication is one of my strengths, and something I’ve always been commended for. And yet, words escape me. I stutter, I stumble, I am tongue-tied. It’s like trying to grab water in your fist.

That is part of what it feels like to have brain fog, a symptom of multiple chronic illnesses, including my idiopathic hypersomnia. You can’t find the words you are looking for, even everyday words. But I am not stupid. I do not have a low vocabulary. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English; communicating in a clear and concise manner was something I was trained to do. But words escape me. Not just once in a while. All the time.

Brain fog is just one aspect of IH. It isn’t even the biggest aspect, nor the most important. However, it matters because how can you convey what it is like to have constant all-consuming fatigue if words escape you?

I would say that my fatigue is a “maelstrom,” or a “torrent” within and surrounding me, but the connotations of such descriptions bring up thoughts of fast and wild disasters. Fatigue is much more subtle and slow. It is not the quick death of a bullet to the brain. Fatigue is more like walking through thick, high mud. Like swimming through honey. Like drowning in an ocean. Like being in a bog, surrounded by impenetrable fog. Like a turtle going uphill through molasses in January. It is all of these things simultaneously. It is wearing a lead straitjacket while trying to escape drying cement. It is slow, and it eats you alive from the inside. It is the thick, heavy, slow, drained, helpless, hopeless feeling.

Imagine dealing with all of that, day in and day out. Now experience all of that while trying to be a competent part of society. Subtract caffeine. Add heart palpitations and a minimum nightly requirement of eleven hours of sleep. The hardest part of your day is waking up. The second hardest is getting out of bed. The third is staying awake. An eternal struggle. Stay awake. Be productive. Accomplish your tasks.

Imagine doing all your normal tasks (and they have to be done well and in a timely manner) when you haven’t slept in three days. Now imagine doing that every day. Can you? I can. Because that is what I do every day, because idiopathic hypersomnia means that I need a minimum of eleven hours of sleep in order to feel like I haven’t slept in two or three days. I cannot remember what it is like to feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and awake. It’s been years. I would, without hesitation, amputate an arm or a leg if that was the cure. Think about that.

Take all of that and tell me that fatigue isn’t debilitating. I dare you.

But you know what? No matter how many people read this, there are still going to be those that think fatigue isn’t debilitating. But life keeps going. So, just like that turtle, I will keep going, even if it is always uphill through molasses in January.

Caitlin Swinford
Germantown, MD

Posted in: Awareness, BeyondSleepy, Hypersomnia, idiopathic hypersomna, Journey, Share the Journey Stories, Social Media, SomnusNooze

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