Narcolepsy on ABC’s Modern Family

imageOn Wednesday April 30, Modern Family’s episode was called Sleeper, in which the daughter has a biology project where she is given a disease to learn about. She walks in saying “Score! I get a disease that’s both rare and fun…narcolepsy!”  She also describes it as an “escape for the brain”. 

Narcolepsy is a REAL and SERIOUS neurological condition affecting 1 in 2,000 people including 200,000 Americans and 3 million people worldwide. It’s a fascinating disorder of the dream sleep cycle, but it’s not a joke. Narcolepsy affects quality of life comparable to Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. (Learn more)

ABC and Modern Family – On behalf of the 1 in 2,000 people living with narcolepsy worldwide including many young children who face ridicule due to misperceptions, please consider raising awareness of the real disorder of narcolepsy on your program. 

Narcolepsy community – I understand if you are hurt. You are valid in your feelings. Let’s try to channel our frustration toward making a positive difference. Let’s try to use this extra bit of energy to call or email a local tv news program or take a photo for the NARCOLEPSY: NOT ALONE campaign. We will get there – we WILL prevail in changing perceptions.

How did this use of narcolepsy make you feel? 


  1. Rita on May 1, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    My son texted me from school and has had lots of kids asking him questions about his narcolepsy because of the show. He’s not offended by it, it’s an opportunity to talk and talking spreads the word.

    • julie on May 1, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      That’s a fantastic perspective!

      • Rita on May 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm

        He’s a fantastic guy!

  2. Martha on May 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Thanks, Julie. This is a great chance for us to educate others.

    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      Thank you, Martha. Here’s to educating others about the REAL narcolepsy. 😉

  3. Mark C Dodd on May 1, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    For every positive from such a stupid and shallow representation of this condition there will be ten negatives. I am forever listening to and consoling PWN who find family, friends and workmates laughing at their life changing condition. Having such a popular TV program perpetuate the “funny” tag is a major setback. Does society allow jokes about other disabilities to go without challenge? Try filming a scene of a blind person tripping over an obstacle of falling in a hole and call it comedy. Or swearing in full voice behind a deaf person. Or making break dancing jokes about an epileptic having a fit. All of these on mainstream TV or even Youtube would result in major public outrage. Yet a person having a cataplexy or sleep attack is fair game for comedy! The ABC should make an apology to the narcolepsy community. Most countries have racial vilification laws. It is about time we had similar for disability.

    • joyce on May 2, 2014 at 7:47 pm

      I absolutely agree with everything you have said here, Mark; and I like the way you said it.

    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      I agree, Mark. It would be so nice if the show would offer an apology or offer to help raise accurate awareness with a short video educational message about the REAL narcolepsy after an upcoming episode. Here’s to hoping for a brighter more thoughtful and kinder future.

  4. Valencia on May 1, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Julie, I wrote to one of the local tv stations here in Chattanooga,TN and mentioned you in my email hope you don’t mind! I hope to here back from them soon. I also seen my sleep doctor and told them how you have helped me better understand about Narcolepsy. So that they might send more people to your website.
    Thanks for all your help!

    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      You are awesome, Valencia! Thank you for writing to your local news stations. This is a great step to fuel interest and awareness of the REAL narcolepsy.

  5. joyce on May 2, 2014 at 12:23 am

    I didn’t see the show….but what I am reading here … “Score! I get a disease that’s both rare and fun…narcolepsy!” She also describes it as an “escape for the brain”. This upsets me….not that it’s anything new, but it still hurts and it’s still going on. I don’t know what followed this on the show …. if anything .. I didn’t actually see it.

    I am going to be 75 this year and I am still faced with this kind of thing all of the time. I ask you how can we expect everyday people, including media people, to understand what narcolepsy really is about if doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, pharmacists, etc. are not getting it? Is this private information restricted to sleep specialists and the NIH?

    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Hi Joyce, I’m so sorry to hear that you have been facing narcolepsy for so many years. I can only imagine how challenging this must be and you are a very strong woman for taking this on. I’m cheering for you.

      I try to raise truthful awareness about narcolepsy through my memoir, “Wide Awake and Dreaming” along with my video series, blog and speaking engagements. I hope we can continue to educate folks in the media, along with medical professionals. Thank you, Julie

  6. Kelly May on May 2, 2014 at 1:27 am

    “…an escape for the brain.” This offends me greatly. I would love for my brain not to escape. I would love to be able to have the energy that people around me have to get through a normal work day without medicating with stimulants or having to sneak off for a nap. I would love to have real memories of things that I’ve done instead of having to wonder if what happened could have been a dream or even worse, not even forming a memory because I was half asleep! Narcolepsy is definitely fascinating but is certainly not fun!

    • joyce on May 2, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      They don’t understand, Kelly…they have no idea how offensive they are…but now you have taken this opportunity to articulate in detail just how wrong they are and that’s a good thing.

    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      So true, Kelly. Thanks for commenting. I hope we can continue to educate folks about the REAL narcolepsy. Your support means so much to me.

  7. Mary on May 2, 2014 at 2:39 am

    I just streamed this episode of Modern family dealing with narcolepsy. I thought this gave such a false betrayal of Narcolypsy….. I wish all you had to do is lesson your stress level to be free of Narcolypsy . This disease needs some real attention, not a short unrealistic betrayal of the issue.
    Julie, please don’t take this comment personal, you are doing great things for Narcolepsy.


    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      Mary, I completely agree that this was an unrealistic portrayal. I hope to help build truthful awareness through my memoir and various efforts. Thanks for commenting. We are stronger together. 😉

  8. Laura Eudy on May 2, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    I think a terrible message from this show is that the cause of narcolepsy is stress and therefore the cure is eliminating stress – in this case by admitting you lied to your spouse. Phil gets severe cataplexy all of a sudden at age 40-something and cures himself later that day. Alex is supposed to be the intelligent daughter but she’ll definitely get an F on her research paper! She says that admitting he lied will cure him. Phil asks if she’s sure and she says, “Yes, I better be right or I’ll have to rewrite the ending to my paper.” I realize stress exacerbates narcolepsy but it is not a one-day disease & cure.

    A huge message of misinformation from this show is the idea that it’s a curable, short-term problem, rather than a lifelong disease without a cure.

    • joyce on May 4, 2014 at 1:44 am

      I agree with you Laura.

    • julie on May 6, 2014 at 7:55 pm

      So true, Laura. Thanks for sharing your opinion here. I hope we can help build better truthful awareness in the future.

  9. Susan on May 8, 2014 at 3:26 am

    I found myself emailing my displeasure on the show’s website. ABC needs to hear from its viewers that it needs to be more accurate in how it portrays medical conditions/disabilities. You’d think networks would be smarter by now. Guess we’ll need to keep reminding them that making fun of others’ physical problems, whatever they are, just isn’t comedy.

    • julie on May 8, 2014 at 5:18 am

      Great idea, Susan. Thank you for contacting ABC.

      • Susan on May 11, 2014 at 6:24 pm

        Unfortunately it’s not apparent that ABC actually reads the comments that they receive. I have an email response from them that is obvious a computer generated, generic response, no indication of the topic of my email, just thanking me for my comments, indicating they can’t respond to each comment they receive and telling me all the places on their website where I can leave comments! As if viewers would continue to send comments when they’ve been told that ABC can’t be bothered with having a person actually read them! I honestly don’t know how to get the word out about narcolepsy, or any other issue that the networks report on incorrectly, if nobody is there to listen.

  10. AXTJH on February 19, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Not only was it a terribly unfunny joke, but they put it across that narcolepsy is something people suffer as a result of guilt and wrong-doing which is disgusting.

Leave a Comment