For most teenagers, getting out of bed in the morning is a drag. But when Lloyd Johnson was 13 years old, he suddenly found waking up not just irritating, but agonizing and confusing.
Sometimes he would open his eyes and already be in the car on the way to school — with no memory of showering or getting dressed. Other days, his family would drag him outside and pour water over his head to stir him, but still he’d remain asleep. His toughest mornings began when he woke up in an empty house, realizing that his family had simply given up on waking him.
Things started not long after a failed surgery. He’d been having intense pains in his right leg for six months, which the doctors attributed to what they thought was a hip disorder. But the procedure was a flop. Lloyd, always a tall kid with a shock of blonde hair, left the hospital with the same old ache in his step — and this bizarre new sleeping habit.
Still, Lloyd and his parents didn’t pay as much attention to his sleeping patterns as they did to the constant pains in his leg. He socialized as much as he could — the movies, church, sports — but pain caused him to skip out frequently, which in turn led to bullying. “Lloyd’s a faker,” the kids would tease. It hurt. By 14, Lloyd was spending more and more days at home, often dozing on the couch or in his bed. Eventually he dropped out of school altogether.
Over the next two years, though, Lloyd’s pain inexplicably got better, and his sleeping went back to normal. He got his driver’s license, started running, and completed his high school requirements. At 18, he enrolled in Murdoch University in his hometown of Perth, Australia, studied computer science, and graduated in the top 2 percent of his class.
It was a complete turnaround. Now, full of energy and enthusiasm, he launched a successful business as a life coach, traveling the world to give weeklong hypnotherapy seminars that sometimes made him $40,000 or more a week. He’d turned into a fitness enthusiast, completing a triathlon, a half marathon, and a 4K with his girlfriend on Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
There’s a photo of the two of them mid-stride, beaming, the epitome of carefree, healthy youth. Lloyd had made an extraordinary transition, turning from an immobile, sickly kid into an athletic, confident leader.
But in the spring of 2012, when he was 25, Lloyd’s spark went out again. This time it wasn’t the pain that stole his life: It was the sleep.
Lloyd had just finished a particularly grueling circuit for work, whizzing through seven cities and 11 time zones in just a few months. It was exhausting, and he slept through every minute of every plane ride. He’d use the 15-minute breaks between his hypnotherapy seminars to sneak naps on the floor of empty rooms. But no matter how much he slept, it was never enough.
Lloyd’s doctor thought the culprit was mono: Working too hard and traveling too much must’ve knocked down his immune system. “If you rest, this is going to get better,” the doctor advised. “And if you don’t rest, this will linger.”
So Lloyd headed to Thailand, a warm, cheap, and tranquil spot for tourists. He stopped eating sugar, did juice fasts and daily massages, and tried reflexology, Reiki, and traditional Chinese remedies. He couldn’t have been more relaxed. But his sleepiness only got worse.
Sometimes he fought the constant pull of sleep, forcing himself to socialize when his mind was in a fog. But by denying his problem, he sometimes put himself — and others — in dangerous situations. One day he was cruising toward the mountains at 100 miles an hour on Red Bull, his large, cherry-colored motorcycle.
One moment he was staring at the lush, green foothills ahead; next thing he knew, an older woman on a bike slowed down in front of him to make a U-turn. He tried his best to stop, but couldn’t, crashing into the back of her bike. They were both thrown to the ground. She was injured badly, bones visible on her shins and hands. Lloyd had only a few cuts and bruises, but he was rattled. How had that happened? he wondered.
Did I zone out?
That was enough. Shortly afterward, Lloyd left his tropical paradise and went back to Australia, determined to figure out what the hell was happening.
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