Fortunately, it doesn't last forever. KLS episodes eventually decrease in frequency and intensity. Though it may take years, there's an end at some point. As of now, there is no definitive treatment for KLS.
This syndrome, characterized by an irregular sleep cycle that shifts later each day, is one of the hardest circadian rhythm disorders to correct, according to the American Sleep Association. Circadian rhythm disorders result in timing problems with a person's sleep-wake cycle.
Most people have an internal biological clock that keeps them on a fairly regular 24-hour schedule and is set by visual cues of light and dark. However, people with free-running syndrome don't have internal clocks and instead have a sleep schedule that's pushed back one or two hours each day, creating a cycle between sleep and wake time that is considered unconventional by society's standards. "[Affected individuals] can never really get it together with the working world," Kramer says. "Their brain timing is off, which constantly moves around their internal clocks."
The disorder is most prevalent among the visually impaired, Kramer says: "The blind don't have the number one thing needed to differentiate between day and night: sense of light." Other factors that can spark free-running syndrome include unstructured or irregular daily routines, poor sleeping habits and a lack of consistent sunlight exposure.
Although it's hard to correct, a few treatment options exist. "We are getting better at stimulating people's brain clocks," Kramer says. "Things like behavioral modifications, light therapy and melatonin can all help the situation over time." A fixed schedule can also be helpful. "You have to structure the day so cues other than light become the regimented signals," Kaplan says.
Fatal Familial Insomnia
Fatal Familial Insomnia is an extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disease in which the thalamus portion of a brain deteriorates, causing people to eventually lose the ability to sleep and subsequently die. It can also lead to agitation, seizures, fevers, a loss of appetite and heart and lung failure, Kaplan says.
FFI is a hereditary condition, and children of those who have it are 50 percent more likely to inherit the disease if one parent is already a carrier.
Little is known about FFI, but scientists have identified a gene responsible for the disorder, Kaplan says. There's no treatment, and those affected typically die within six to 12 months of showing symptoms.
Treating Sleep Disorders
Although sleep can seem like an unproductive activity, it's an important part of maintaining health and long-term well-being. One of the most important things you can do if you're struggling with sleep is to look for help. "People don't put enough priority on getting sleep," Kaplan says. "It all starts with visiting a doctor for a good general checkup. There's also a lot of good information available online and in other outlets for self-help treatment methods. But you have to start somewhere."