Life as a Possible–or Probable–Narcoleptic

Asleep reading a long time agoIt seems like I might finally know why I fall asleep all the time, and it my not just be that “button on my butt” that I inherited from my grandpa. It might actually be narcolepsy, which is also genetic–makes sense to me.

The cool thing about having a sister-in-law studying psychology is you get free diagnoses from time to time. On our way back from Orlando last weekend, I (as typical) fell right asleep in the van with everyone chatting and laughing. I was completely oblivious to everyone. Apparently she looked it up as a joke, and it kind of matched in their minds, without knowing the full extent of my sleep patterns.

I have always been able to fall asleep on a dime when I’m tired, unless my mind is busy. Ever since I was 16, I could fall asleep in the chair watching movies with the family. I have fallen asleep during explosive action movies in the theater in the afternoon. I can fall asleep within 3 minutes of picking up a book, which makes studying REALLY hard. I fall asleep at work, just for a minute or two, but it’s the nodding that drives me crazy. I nod and fight the eyelids when I’m driving to the point where I will go take a nap in a parking lot to keep going. All it takes is 5-15 minutes of sleep, and I’m good as new–for a couple of hours.

When I read the medical description today, it shocked me just how often it happens and how serious it is. Check these two symptoms out from Mayo Clinic:

The primary characteristic of narcolepsy is overwhelming drowsiness and an uncontrollable need to sleep during the day. People with narcolepsy fall asleep without warning, anywhere and at any time. For example, you may suddenly nod off while at work or talking with friends. You may sleep for just a few minutes or up to a half-hour before awakening and feeling refreshed, but then you fall asleep again.

During episodes of automatic behavior, you continue to function during sleep episodes — even talking and putting things away, for example — but you awaken with no memory of performing such activities, and you generally don’t perform these tasks well.

Now that I think about it, I used to talk to Gorgeous on the phone as she drove home or after she got home from a late night at work. I would often be asleep or waiting for her call, very sleepily. On many occasions, my speech was too slurred to be understood, while other times it was like I was in another world–dreaming. One particularly funny episode was when I told her that she needed to get off the yacht because the enemy was climbing on board and they were super-trained. I had been reading a spy book by Ted Bell and that was the last scene I read before falling asleep. When she called, I was still re-living my reading and I had to save her from danger.

So, if I ever nod off on you during a discussion, change the subject. It’s nothing personal; you’re just boring me.

  • http://stroppsworld.com Stropp

    Sounds like you have the exact opposite problem to me. I have no ability to fall asleep anywhere but by being horizontal in bed in a darkened room, and even then it can take up to two hours to do so. The slightest disturbance, like my cat using me as a pillow wakes me up. So good luck to ya!

    Seriously though. It’s definitely worth getting this checked out. Sleeping disorders can be quite dangerous and can have unpredictable results — like falling asleep in traffic.

  • http://stroppsworld.com Stropp

    Sounds like you have the exact opposite problem to me. I have no ability to fall asleep anywhere but by being horizontal in bed in a darkened room, and even then it can take up to two hours to do so. The slightest disturbance, like my cat using me as a pillow wakes me up. So good luck to ya!

    Seriously though. It’s definitely worth getting this checked out. Sleeping disorders can be quite dangerous and can have unpredictable results — like falling asleep in traffic.

  • http://www.perfectlypetersen.com Jesse Petersen

    @Stropp: I’m right with you on getting it checked out ASAP. At least I have a manual transmission, so that at stop lights, the worst that can happen is that I get honked at when the light turns green, rather than kissing the car in front if I doze off.

    My wife used to have sort of your sleep issue, but she’s adjusted from having someone like me around, because I’m not a quiet or still sleeper.

  • http://www.perfectlypetersen.com Jesse Petersen

    @Stropp: I’m right with you on getting it checked out ASAP. At least I have a manual transmission, so that at stop lights, the worst that can happen is that I get honked at when the light turns green, rather than kissing the car in front if I doze off.

    My wife used to have sort of your sleep issue, but she’s adjusted from having someone like me around, because I’m not a quiet or still sleeper.