What sleep disorder makes you fall asleep uncontrollably?

This question was asked in Saint Louis, Missouri on 12/03/2012.
I can’t help falling asleep. I do it everywhere, even behind the wheel of my car. I need help but I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know what sleep disorder that I have.

Doctors Answers (5)

Joseph Lee, DDS, FICOI
Answered on: 12/4/2012

You should contact a sleep physician who can help you find a proper diagnosis.

Jeannine Louise Gingras, MD
Answered on: 12/4/2012

There are many that can cause daytime sleepiness. One is Narcolepsy, a chronic neurologic disorder of daytime sleepiness. But anything that disrupts sleep time or sleep quality can result in daytime sleepiness. The list is long. History is extremely helpful in trying to identify the root cause. Often a night time and daytime nap studies are needed as part of the evaluation. I would recommend that you seek out a board certified sleep physician for evaluation.

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 5/21/2012

Uncontrolled sleep attacks may be due to a disorder of hypersomnia like Narcolepsy or Idiopathic Hypersomnia, insufficient sleep or deprivation, an extreme medication side effect or other medical disorder associated with sleep disregulation. You should avoid drowsy driving and get help as soon as possible before something catastrophic happens. An MD referral to a sleep specialist in the very near future and possible tesitng with a polysomnogram or MSLT (multiple sleep latency test)-series of naps to quantify daytime sleepiness will possibly help identify the problem.

Gary K. Zammit, Ph.D.
Answered on: 5/21/2012

There are many, many sleep disorders that can result in the type of severe sleepiness you describe. Conditions such as insufficient sleep (not getting enough sleep) to sleep apnea (a sleep related breathing disorder) to narcolepsy can result in debilitating sleepiness. The sleepiness associated with narcolepsy can be so severe that it may appear as "sleep attacks;" these attacks are characterized by sudden and uncontrollable episodes of sleep. The only way to assess the severity of your sleepiness and its possible underlying cause is to undergo a sleep evaluation. A board certified sleep specialist will most likely meet with you for an office consultation in order to obtain your medical history and complete a physical examination. Following that visit, the specialist may recommend polysomnography (in-laboratory sleep testing) followed by the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), a special test to assess the presence and severity of your sleepiness. In the MSLT you are given several opportunities to nap during the day, and the speed with which you fall asleep is measured. Abnormally sleepy people fall asleep quickly, while those who are not sleepy may not fall asleep at all. It is important that you seek medical help, and that you avoid placing yourself and others at risk. Given that you are falling asleep uncontrollably, even behind the wheel, you should stop driving until you have had your sleepiness evaluated and treated. Getting help is your first step to better health.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 5/21/2012

The most classical sleep disorder associated with uncontrollable sleep attacks is narcolepsy. However, there are other sleep disorders associated with daytime sleepiness. Persons with Obstructive Sleep Apnea or Restless Legs Syndrome often suffer from daytime sleepiness. Sleep deprivation, of course, can result in daytime sleepiness. A sleep specialist can usually find the cause and treat you. You should not be driving until the problem is corrected. Narcolepsy is a disorder whereby you are missing a neurotransmitter in the brain which is active in the daytime to keep us awake. Without this transmitter you fight sleep daily. It is a condition which can be treated but not cured. There are some physicians who feel that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disorder and treatment with medications which suppress the immune system may help.