When Annie Watson was six years old, she started falling asleep while eating. She fell asleep while practicing the piano, riding to school, and playing soccer. She fell asleep watching her beloved Packers in the Super Bowl, in a house full of people yelling at the television.
Regis Watson thought her daughter had mono, but the tests were negative. She asked her pediatrician to test Annie's blood for leukemia, but the doctor told Watson that she was crazy and to leave the girl alone. She was just growing, he said. But Annie had always been an energetic and bright child who never took naps. Now she was sleeping 16 hours a day.
Worried that Annie had an endocrine or breathing disorder, Watson took her to an ear, nose and throat specialist. He took out Annie's tonsils and adenoids, to no effect. Now seven years old, she was sleeping all the time, and was ornery and obstinate when she was awake.
After a year of confusing and contradictory medical advice, Annie saw David Gozal, MD, a leading expert in the treatment of pediatric sleep disorders. He asked Annie's mother to keep a careful diary of when she fell asleep and when she woke up. And he asked her to videotape Annie at home, so he could see one of her sleep attacks in action.
Watson gave Gozal a tape of Annie sitting at the kitchen table, working on her math homework. Mid pencil stroke, her eyes closed and her head slumped. She woke up in time to catch herself from falling off the chair, less than a second later. Then, angry and confused, Annie started crying.
Gozal sent Annie to the sleep lab, where she could be observed throughout the night and at naptimes. Nurses attached electrodes to her head to record her brain activity. Before they had left the room and returned to their monitors, Annie had already fallen into a deep REM sleep.