About 40 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder condition that affects the quality of their lives and in some cases puts their lives at risk. Internet videos of people suddenly dozing off right in the middle of the day may get lots of laughs but in real life there's nothing funny about it.
Internet videos of people suddenly dozing off right in the middle of the day might get lots of laughs but in real life there's nothing funny about it.
"It started the summer before my senior year in high school," says Rochanda Ferrelli.
For nearly 15 years Ferrelli has been fighting the frightening effects of narcolepsy a condition that causes people to suddenly fall asleep. Rochonda's wake up call came after crashing her car into the back of a truck.
"The person I hit actually told me I was doing about 120 miles and hour, as fast as my car could go," says Ferrelli.
Sleep specialist Dr. Laurence Smolley says narcolepsy typically starts in younger age groups like teens and early 20's.
"What we know now about narcolepsy there are certain cells in the brain that are damaged that no longer make a certain hormones, the chemical that creates alertness. So if that chemical is missing, the person is sleeping," says Smolley.
People with narcolepsy not only suddenly fall asleep during the day they may also suffer from sleep paralysis where they are temporarily unable to move. Those who suffer from narcolepsy may have disturbing hallucinations during the night.
"It's been so terrifying I don't cope with it at all. I usually scream but nothing comes out. I just completely freak out," says Ferrelli.
"One of the biggest problems with narcolepsy is people go undiagnosed for years, if not decades," says Smolley.
Proper diagnosis starts with a sleep study to measure brain waves and eye movements.
"Once the diagnosis is made, then it's more justifiable for the doctor to give stimulant drugs to compensate to deal with the daytime sleepiness," says Smolley.
But the medications can have troubling side effects. This is why Rochonda went in search of alternatives. She used diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques. Rochonda has been able to wean herself off the medication and live a more normal life.
"I still have narcolepsy, it's not gone, but it's manageable. I'm living with it," says Ferrelli.
In some cases there is a genetic predisposition for narcolepsy but it can also be triggered by a virus, toxins in the environment and drug abuse.