LPGA’s Nicole Jeray on Living with Narcolepsy

Nicole Jeray

For Nicole Jeray, being a professional golfer means hard work, determination and figuring out a way to compete while living with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder which affects 1 in 1,500 people.

It’s not uncommon for Nicole, 45, to fall asleep on the golf course, even during tournaments.  She’s been a professional golfer since 1994 and has went to the L.P.G.A’s annual qualifying tournament for the 22nd year, competing against a field that included 21 players younger than 22.

Jeray has earned full L.P.G.A status seven times, gained partial status eight times and left with nothing seven times. She seems to perform best under pressure, chalking it up to “maybe I want it really bad.”

Her life as she knew it changed in 1996 when she was diagnosed with narcolepsy after experiencing extreme sleepiness, sleep paralysis and cataplexy, described as weakness and a loss of motor control brought on by strong emotions, like laughter or sadness.

“If she gets too jacked up, she falls asleep,” said her boyfriend, Jody Keepers, who was her caddie at Q-School. “She has to stay completely level emotionally for five hours just to play a tournament, which means she can’t get too excited about birdies or mad about bogeys.”

After being in several frightening close-call traffic incidents and increasing amounts of sleep paralysis while she traveled, Jeray went to a sleep specialist in Houston, TX in 2000.  Dr. Todd Swick, a neurologist who is the medical director of Houston Sleep and Neurology Associates, switched Jeray’s prescription to help stabilize her symptoms.

Swick said narcolepsy is often mistaken for depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“About 70 percent of patients are misdiagnosed,” he added. “It’s very common to misdiagnose it because narcolepsy is not really on anybody’s radar.”

Since 2000, Nicole has made it a goal to raise awareness about this devastating disease, speaking at conferences about narcolepsy and raising money for national support groups and education.

Click HERE to read the New York Times article on professional golfer Nicole Jeray and her life with narcolepsy.