(PLACENTIA, Calif.) -- When Eric Haller gets sick and goes into an "episode" -- about eight to 10 times a year -- he slips into a dreamlike state and is unable to do simple cognitive tasks, such as reading, adding or comprehending his favorite TV shows.
The 21-year-old from Placentia, Calif., has a 3.5 average at Fullerton State University and interns for the L.A. Clippers, but his capabilities disappear when he descends into a trance.
Haller has Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a rare sleep disorder that is characterized by recurring, but reversible periods of excessive sleep, sometimes up to 20 hours per day accompanied by childlike behavior.
Just last week, he came out of an episode that lasted 30 days. The one before that was 37 days.
"When I go through it, it's complete hell for me," said Haller. "It doesn't feel real and it's hard to understand what people are saying. It's so frustrating, because I want to understand."
Symptoms include excessive food intake, especially "junk food," plus "irritability, childishness, disorientation and hallucinations," according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
More than 70 percent of those who have KLS are male, and it affects only about 1,000 children and young adults worldwide.
Doctors know little about the disorder, but suspect it may be related to a malfunction of the hypothalamus and thalamus, parts of the brain that control appetite, sleep and sexuality.
The disease is typically diagnosed around age 11 and episodes eventually decrease in frequency and intensity over the course of eight to 12 years.
The hardest part is psychological for both KLS patients and their caregivers, who report feeling the stress of this capricious condition. Sometimes, patients babble like babies, barely incomprehensible -- and others can act out sexually.
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