Man can sleep for weeks at a stretch
FOR most people, 10 hours of sleep a day is plenty.
For assistant sales manager Damian Ng, 29, however, a snooze can sometimes last three weeks.
He would only wake up to eat or shower.
But being a real life Rip Van Winkle is hardly a happy fairy tale.
Said Mr Ng: “I would feel really lethargic and really tired. I would be out of sync with the world and everything would look fuzzy and blur to me.”
Doctors, when told of his symptoms, reckon he could be suffering from the rare neurological condition called Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS), which is also known as Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. (See report below.)
Those with this condition live, sleep and behave normally for weeks or months – and suddenly end up sleeping for days or weeks at a stretch.
They can wake up during that period but would be groggy and disoriented until the episode passes.
For Mr Ng, these episodes used to occur once a year. They started when he was 13.
“People like us who have such episodes throughout our lives can find it a barrier to live normal lives,” he said.
It has been two years since his last attack and – as he ritually rapped his desk with his knuckles – he hopes it will not return.
His first episode occurred when he was in Secondary 1, on a school trip to Johor. During the return journey on the coach, he started feeling like he was dreaming. It was a “spacey feeling”.
When he got home, he said he rested on his mother’s lap and cried.
Fortunately, it was the December holidays. He spent three to four weeks in a slumber, he said.
His younger sister, Miss Cerenna Ng, 28, a teacher, said she felt quite helpless when it happened.
She said: “If you see his state, see him sleep for so long, you would feel uncomfortable as well.”
He looked normal but dazed and unable to focus whenever she woke him.
She said the family had to take care of him.
Even their grandmother had to travel from Clementi to their Jurong West home to cook for him.
It also led to some friction between his parents.
His father is a taxi driver and his mum is a technical administration assistant.
Said Mr Ng: “My father thought I was possessed while my mum thought it was a medical problem.”
He said he visited doctors to get medical leave and they often thought he was faking.
One doctor even speculated to his mother that he may be suffering from relationship problems and was trying to avoid school.
But he said his teachers were sympathetic when his mother called to explain his absence. His classmates would also help him.
“Luckily, it never struck during an important event, like during the A levels,” he said.
When he was older, he consulted a neurologist and three psychiatrists among other doctors, but no one could help him, he said.
Over the years, he has had several diagnoses. During National Service, he was recorded as having frontal lobe epilepsy and given PES E status, which meant he was fit only for administrative duties.
Later, he was diagnosed as suffering from a dissociative state, in which a person feels disconnected from himself or others. Most recently, he said he was told he was suffering from depersonalisation (an altered mental state like an out-of-body experience) and derealisation (an altered mental state where the world seems strange and unreal).
Mr Ng said the attacks often came after moments of weakness – such as when he is suffering from fever.
Once, it struck after he suffered a bad ankle injury during a volleyball game. The most recent episode, two years ago, came after he had a knee operation, when he had a fever.
He had been working for a shipping company as a sales executive then, and his bosses could not understand why he was out for so
It was only recently, when Mr Ng read the story of 15-year-old British student Louisa Ball, that he had an inkling of what he might really be the problem.
Miss Ball has KLS and the longest she has slept is 13 days. Her parents have to force her awake to make her eat and go to the washroom.
Mr Ng said: “What I have read about the disorder is quite similar to what I have experienced.”
Tall and tanned and recently married, Mr Ng does not seem like someone with an unusual problem.
His wife, banking executive Florence Lim, 25, said they met when they were in the same company two years ago. He had taken three weeks’ of medical leave during one of his episodes. Initially, she thought he was just too stressed out.
Said MadamLim: “There’s no major problem to his health. He just sleeps. It’s not like he’s psychotic and attacks people.”
Mr Ng said he has never been prescribed any medication.
Instead of seeing doctors, now he turns to the Linden Method, a form of self-treatment to deal with anxiety and depression.
It involves a technique to keep one’s mind occupied and so avoid dwelling on any ailment.
It is working well for him, he said.
“I would like to bring attention to other sufferers, especially in Singapore, if there are any, that they are not alone,” he said.
He added that he would like to get in touch with anyone who is suffering from something similar.
Condition is extremely rare
DR LIM Li Ling, director of the Sleep Disorders Unit at Singapore General Hospital, described Mr Ng’s problem as a “poorly understood and complex condition”.
Said Dr Lim: “There are probably no morethan a handful of KLS patients seen in sleep disorders clinics locally, if any.No formal statistics are available since there is no disease registry for this extremely rare condition.”
In the US, it is classified as a rare disorder, which means it affects fewer than 200,000 people there.
“Locally, I have seen only one suspected case among hundreds of patients with excessive sleepiness, which eventually could not be proven to be definite KLS,” she said.
Some believe it is related to dysfunction of parts of the brain which regulate appetite and sleep, she added.
SaidDr Lim: “KLS is diagnosed by taking a detailed medical history from the patient, physical examination, followed by a sleep study (recording brainwave patterns and other functions like breathing, heart rhythm) to exclude other conditions.”
While there is no cure for the condition, activating drugs or brain stimulants are sometimes tried, she said.
Associate Professor Loh Ngai Kun, senior consultant neurologist at the National Neuroscience Institute, also noted that the disorder is uncommon and the cause is not known.
“I had one patient but he was lost on follow-up,” he said, adding that he, too, did not know the number of KLS sufferers here.