National Sleep Foundation’s publication, sleepmatters® , recently spoke with comedian, Mike Birbiglia, about his sleep disorder and what it was like living in a Macy’s window for Downy’s Clean Sheet Week.
sleepmatters®: You are well-known for talking about your experience with a rare sleep disorder (RBD). (I will never forget your description of jumping out a hotel window in Walla-Walla, Washington.) Can you tell us a little about this? How are you doing now?
In my early twenties I was a young comic hustling to get any foothold in the business. I took every gig, every red-eye flight, and drove any distance to make my career work. In my apartment in Brooklyn I had experienced a series of frightening sleepwalking episodes, but I just didn’t think they were serious. I would stand on my bed and try to fight flying jackals, and I had fallen off the bookshelf in my living room, which in my dream was an Olympic podium. Still, I thought I was too busy to see a doctor. On one trip to Washington state, I was performing at 5 colleges in 4 days. I was staying up late, obsessed with cable news coverage of the war, and eating pizza on my bed while on the Internet right before I went to sleep. That night I nearly died when I jumped through my hotel window in my sleep. That’s when I saw a sleep specialist and was diagnosed with REM Behavior Disorder. For the most part, I have been able to control these episodes with medication and behavioral changes. I definitely have a lot more respect for the importance of proper sleep.
Fast-forward from this experience of jumping out of a window to actually living in Macy’s store window for a week for Downy’s Clean Sheet Challenge. How did you get there? Why did you do it?
As I understand it, the people from Downy were familiar with my work. I had performed a show called “Sleepwalk With Me” and written a book of the same name. I think they saw a natural tie-in