disorder

'My bed was my home': Lawyer treated for mysterious sleep disorder

Nov. 26, 2012 at 12:20 PM ET

“My bed was my home,” says Anna Summer. “I would hit a point in the day where I thought, if I don’t go to sleep right now, I will literally not survive.”

Summer, a lawyer in Georgia, suffers from a mysterious disorder that caused her to sleep for up to 18 hours a day, reports TODAY’s Gabe Gutierrez.

"It was like an addiction," she told TODAY.

And yet she never felt rested. Summer took a leave of absence and began treatment at Emory University. After determining that she didn’t have a thyroid problem or depression, doctors discovered the problem that was ruining her life -– Summer had a major sleeping disorder that most often affects women. Emory researchers had found it in 31 other patients like Anna.

"We've discovered in a large number of these folks the body seems to be producing a substance that acts very much like a sedative, hypnotic drug,” neurologist Dr. David Rye told TODAY.

The condition makes patient response times as slow as people who are legally drunk. Researchers aren’t sure of the cause, but they estimate the disorder could affect 1 in 800 people.

The Emory researchers are testing a drug called flumazenil, normally used to help surgery patients wake up from anesthesia. Patient Vicki Rusk got the IV drug during Emory’s research.

“The fog was lifted,” Rusk told TODAY. “You felt like you were awake.”

So far, Summer is the only patient taking flumazenil in pill form, thanks to a donation from a pharmaceutical company.

“I was existing before treatment, but I wasn’t living,” she says.

Her supply of medicine runs out next year. She and her doctors are trying to convince the pharmaceutical industry to mass produce the drug, the only effective treatment of the disorder.

The research was just published in the medical journal Science Translational Medicine.

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