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...why not boast about Leopold and Loeb?

While “Behind the Campus Buzz” highlighted the abuse of prescription ADHD drugs by students seeking performance enhancers beyond caffeine, my own GPA is evidence that I didn’t succumb to the temptation.

However, for the past year or so, I’ve legitimately taken Ritalin pills every day. I don’t have ADHD; I have narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is the disorder people laugh at in the movies when they show characters suddenly stiffening and falling over, fast asleep. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes describes narcolepsy as a “disabling neurological disorder of sleep regulation that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness.” According to the Stanford Center for Narcolepsy, the disorder affects more than one in 2,000 Americans, most of whom go undiagnosed and untreated. The symptoms vary in combination and intensity and include excessive daytime sleepiness, abnormal REM sleep, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations, and cataplexy.

Physicians trained in pulmonology or sleep medicine diagnose narcolepsy with a nocturnal polysomnogram and a multiple sleep latency test, or by measuring hypocretin levels in cerebrospinal fluids. Stimulants such as Ritalin or Provigil are prescribed to manage the symptoms of diagnosed narcoleptics.

Sometimes narcoleptics can be misdiagnosed, as I was, with depression and be prescribed medications that aggravate their narcolepsy symptoms.

Occasionally nodding off during a lecture class or while studying is typical. Being frustrated with not having enough time to study is normal. It is atypical and abnormal to be frustrated because you can never stay awake. If more than 40 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, a few people might recognize themselves in this letter and see their doctors.

Elizabeth Magno Pangerl, SB’98
White Bear Lake, Minnesota

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. To ensure the widest range of views, we encourage letters of fewer than 300 words. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL60637. Or e-mail:


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