Matthew Owen, 18, has struggled to stay awake in his classes since first-grade. His teachers sent notes to his parents almost every week expressing their concern that he wasn’t getting enough sleep – even though he would sleep for more than 10 hours a night. His pediatrician assured his parents that what he was experiencing was normal for a growing boy of his age.
It wasn’t until middle school that Matthew remembers falling asleep almost every day in class. After a family meeting with the school principal, Matthew’s parents took him to see a neurologist. At age 11, Matthew was diagnosed with narcolepsy after undergoing a sleep study.
Narcolepsy is a disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. People with narcolepsy experience irresistible and sudden spells of sleep that can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Sleep spells can occur at any time: at work or school, during a conversation or while eating a meal.
“The best way I can describe my condition is like a phone battery,” says Matthew, “Instead of being charged to 100% after being plugged in all night, I need a little extra help staying charged throughout the day so that I can focus.”
Last summer, Matthew was referred to the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach since the treatment he was previously receiving was no longer working for him. After seeing Gary Feldman M.D., medical director, Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, Miller Children's, he is now on a much better sleep cycle with medication that helps him get solid, quality sleep and keep him awake during the day. To monitor his progress, he continues to visit Gary Feldman M.D. every three months.
“When I first saw Matthew, his hands were shaking violently, a side effect from his medication, and he had difficulty communicating. He almost fell asleep during our first session,” says Dr. Feldman. “I can tell that by switching his medication, Matthew is more in touch with his world. He appears more confident and no longer suffers from tremors.”
Matthew’s narcolepsy leaves him faced with daily struggles such as remembering to take his medication in the morning and twice at night. He has to be aware of the things he is doing so he doesn’t get into a situation where he can fall asleep easily. He sometimes has to schedule naps during the day to keep him focused, but he is now sleeping much better than he was before.
“I have definitely seen a change in my son since he’s been seeing Dr. Feldman,” says Don Owen, Matthew’s father. “He is more open to talking and seems more comfortable in his own skin. His academics and discipline have improved, too.”
Matthew graduated high school last year and is now attending community college. He hopes to work in the field of computer science when he is done with school.
For more information about sleep disorders like narcolepsy, call the Long Beach Adult & Pediatric Sleep Center at (562) 933-8645.