“Sleepwalk With Me” Movie Raises Awareness about Sleep Disorders

Sleepwalk With Me” is a must-see movie for everyone, especially the 40 million Americans challenged by sleep. The film features a struggling comedian, who is driving cross-country for low-end gigs, while managing a rocky relationship and odd incidents of acting out his dreams at night. 

I’m a big fan of Mike Birbiglia, the writer, director, and star of “Sleepwalk With Me,” which is based on his true-life journey as a comedian living with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. Ira Glass co-produced and co-wrote the screen play.

In 2008, I heard Birbiglia’s NPR segment on This American Life with Ira Glass. In 2010, I read his book “Sleepwalk With Me.” This August, I saw Birbiglia’s new show at DC Improv. Birbiglia is a role model to me in many ways, especially in his candid honesty about his sleep disorder.

One of my favorite lines in “Sleepwalk With Me” comes after one of his scary dream incidents. Birbiglia describes: “This was the first time I thought, This seems dangerous. Maybe I should see a doctor. And then I thought, Maybe I’ll eat dinner. And I went with dinner.”

Perhaps it’s surprising that this is one of my favorite lines, as a passionate sleep advocate, I ideally would like people to choose doctors over dinner. However, Birbiglia‘s statement is vulnerable and realistic.

The invisible nature of sleep disorders make them hard to detect, even from the inside.  We rarely talk about sleep in our culture, except to brag about how little we get. Like Mike, I lived with a serious undiagnosed sleep disorder for years before getting help. Looking back, it’s clear both Mike and I should have sought help sooner. But this is real life. I hope someday doctors will ask about patients’ sleep in their routine questioning.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a neurological sleep disorder, often associated with narcolepsy and Parkinson’s Disease. People with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder act out their dreams. Normally, we are paralyzed during REM/dream sleep so that we do NOT act out our dreams, as it could be quite dangerous – as depicted in this movie.  

Interestingly, cataplexy, a symptom of narcolepsy, is when the paralysis of dream sleep kicks in inappropriately when an individual is awake and conscious. So when I collapse to the ground paralyzed with humor, annoyance, and sexual excitement, this is the OPPOSITE of Mike kicking his hamper thinking it’s an aardvark.

I’m experiencing the paralysis of dream sleep while awake. Mike is not experiencing the paralysis of dream sleep while dreaming. Together, we make the perfect human… Or a kick-ass episode of Grey’s Anatomy! 

I really wish I could say I liked the bit about narcolepsy in the film, but that would be a lie. Birbiglia states that some women with narcolepsy fall asleep the moment they reach orgasm. He has confused falling asleep with cataplexy, a symptom of narcolepsy in which one becomes paralyzed while conscious brought on by emotions such as humor, annoyance and yes, sexual excitement. I have been physically paralyzed during sex – read my article in Marie Claire Magazine and look for my memoir out later this year.

Also, CNN has a great article differentiating sleep-walking from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.

In conclusion, while Birbiglia‘s sleep disorder is rare, his story is not. This is a film about growing up, navigating illness, experiencing heartbreak and fighting for and with our dreams.  And despite the seemingly heavy subject matter, we are left smiling and laughing all the way home.

Watch “Sleepwalk With Me” today! It’s currently playing at over 90 theaters across the country AND available On Demand.  

Looking for Friday Night Plans? Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass are throwing a “National Pizza Party” this Friday, October 12th, inviting people around the country to host pizza parties and watch “Sleepwalk With Me” via video on demand. Mike and Ira will video chat with a bunch of these parties! To register your party, go to: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/blog/2012/10/pizza-party-with-ira-and-mike

Sleepwalk With Me Preview:

Mike and Ira’s Pizza Party Video: 


  1. Alex Withrow on October 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Great write-up here. I like how you descried the vulnerability of the doctor vs. dinner statement. That seems very truthful to me, as an outsider.

    This was interesting to read for a number of reasons. As always, I appreciate the candor of your writing, but on a film level, I really appreciate how you point out the films faults (or, better worded, inaccuracies). I do want to see this flick, but I have a better understanding of what it’s all about after reading this.

    Well done, Fly!

    • julie on October 11, 2012 at 4:27 am

      Thank you for your comment, Alex! You are the guru of film reviews, so your kind words mean a lot to me. 🙂 Yours, Fly

  2. William Behun on October 10, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I very rarely would go see a movie based on a write-up in a blog but you’ve really captured, I think, what is not just important but entertaining here. I am grateful that you brought this to my attention!

    • julie on October 11, 2012 at 4:28 am

      Hi William, Thank you for reading my post and commenting! I’m so thrilled you are interested in seeing this film. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Enjoy!

  3. Lawrence on October 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Time to make room in my Netflix queue of movies I want to watch, but never seem to have the time to…. zzz I didn’t know there was a 500 disc limit in the queue….though at my current rate of consumption, it’ll take 50 years to watch it. So, there’s probably a lot of stuff that’s been spoiled….

    Though I need to buy a new DVD player, maybe it’ll come out for streaming….though I hardly use that, been thinking of dropping it…though the new TV I bought a couple weeks ago to replace the one that died has it built in.

    I’ve been failing at adapting a new sleep routine now that its harder to sacrifice some sleep to fit schedules. It might get bad enough to where I’ll have to sacrifice half my sleep…which I’m sure to do at the conference, where I’ll be a first timer as a PWN.

    • julie on October 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Hi Lawrence, I understand – time management can be challenging with narcolepsy. Hang in there. Looking forward to the Narcolepsy Network conference too! -Julie

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