World’s Rarest Sleep Disorders

Up to 40 million Americans currently suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder. For those unfortunate few, sleep is far from restful, and can cause anxiety about what awaits them when their eyes finally shut. In addition to the sleep deprivation, sleep disorders are often a traumatizing experience for patients and, in extreme cases, can even lead to death.

Here is a look at the world’s rarest (and strangest) sleep disorders:

Fatal Familial Insomnia

Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is like an inherited death sentence for the patient: the average lifespan is just 18 months after the first signs of symptoms. Fortunately, the condition is extremely rare, with the genetic mutation responsible for the disorder found in only 40 families worldwide, limiting its damage to approximately 100 patients.

Caused by a genetic mutation, FFI is characterized by extreme ever-worsening insomnia leading to the complete inability to sleep; which eventually devolves into delirium and confusion similar to dementia. The patient’s health deteriorates rapidly until he/she becomes unresponsive, with death occurring between seven to 36 months from the initial symptoms.

While presently incurable, genetic testing can be done to avoid passing the mutation to a child, and research is being conducted to slow the development of the disease.

Klein-Levin Syndrome

Also known as “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” Klein-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare sleep disorder marked by recurring episodes of hypersomnia where the patient sleeps for extensive lengths of time: up to 20 hours per day.

The condition is accompanied by other dramatic changes, such as hypersexuality, mood swings, disorientation, and confusion. Episodes can last from a few days to several weeks. While there is no set treatment for KLS, the episodes tend to decrease in severity and frequency over the span of 12 years. KLS most often affects teenage boys: in fact, 70% of KLS patients are men.

Exploding Head Syndrome

Although not quite as dramatic as the name suggests, exploding head syndrome (EHS) is a parasomnia named for the loud bang – like a gunshot or bomb detonating – its patients hear or imagine experiencing when falling or waking from sleep. The notable characteristic is that patients perceive that the explosion originates from inside the head.

While the cause remains unknown, EHS is a benign and painless sleep disorder. Regardless, the experience can cause a great deal of fear, stress, and anxiety for the patient when an episode occurs.


While people often joke about being narcoleptic, narcolepsy is a serious sleep disorder that affects approximately 1 in every 2,000 people. Narcolepsy is defined by excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy (loss of muscle control, triggered by strong emotions), hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

For narcoleptic patients, the line between sleep and wakefulness is blurred so that the patient often experiences sleep qualities while awake. This is thought to be caused by a deficit or complete lack of hypocretin in the brain, a hormone essential to regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles. There is no cure for narcolepsy, but its symptoms can be managed with the right treatments to allow patients to resume full lives.

Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUDS)

SUDS is a genetic sleep disorder that primarily affects southeast Asian males, causing sudden death in their sleep. Scientists suspect the cause is related to the body’s inability to coordinate the electrical signals that keep the heart beating and the blood flowing.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is marked by the patient violently acting out his/her dreams with force and intensity. When entering a state of REM sleep, your body should be in a state of paralysis – this is incomplete or nonexistent in patients with RBD. Signs of RBD include screaming and violent behavior such as kicking, punching, and grabbing while asleep. While RBD can pose a threat to the safety of the patient, it poses an equal threat to the patient’s bed partner.

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED) is characterized by patients who eat while they are asleep, ingesting over half of their food intake in the middle of the night. These patients awaken frequently throughout the night and require food to fall back asleep. NS-RED patients have no recollection of the episodes, and may develop weight gain and diabetes as a result.

Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Mayank Shukla

If you believe you could be suffering from a common or uncommon sleep disorder, or you’re simply dissatisfied with the quality of your sleep, schedule a consultation with renowned sleep specialist Dr. Mayank Shukla at the Asthma Allergy Sleep Center of New York today.

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