Dear Dr. Sleep,

Help! For years I’ve been able to hide my sleep problems, but now, with children who have to be carpooled, and get to school on time, I am faced with solving my sleep dilemmas. I believe I have two sleep issues.

Issue 1: I can’t wake up in the morning, and I’m up all night. And, when I first wake-up… I’m like a zombie. The following illustrates:

I’m so foggy that I’ve taken showers with my slippers still on my feet. As a child, my Mother hand-fed me until I was in high school. (If my Mother did not feed me, I’d sit at the table, awake, but in a non-thinking, vegetative state.)

While in college, I was in a dorm, and one person was assigned wake-up. I would leave notes not to believe anything I said that morning, i.e. ‘my class was cancelled,’ to assure that I would wake. I lied in my sleep. I knew I would lie, but when awakened, a part of my brain took over that wasn’t rational. All I could hope to do was find the human alarm clock and try to explain my situation the night before. Hopefully, this person would be resilient in nudging me dozens of times. Everyone hated waking me up; many times I missed classes.

I can sleep through anything. In a sorority, I was chosen to sleep in the single bedroom; my roommates loved this because they could have parties, and I was totally unaware. Once asleep, I was dead to the world. I once told a college professor that I couldn’t make a class because I had a sleep disorder (little did I know!).

When I was in the MGM fire that started at 7:15 a.m., my brother hired an investigator to find me, as everyone knew, I’d still be sleeping. Fortunately, I decided, late the night before, to go to a business meeting. When working, I’d set multiple alarm clocks around my room, thinking that at least one of them should wake me up. I’d still oversleep, getting up each time to turn off the alarm, and going back into bed. For important meetings, I asked my Mother to call; oftentimes, even that didn’t work. I’d talk (somewhat aware) and fall back asleep.

While I can’t get up in the morning, I have no difficulty staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. My usual bedtime is 1:30 a.m. I’d like to go to bed earlier, but I can’t. It’s like some force that keeps me up, outside of my control. My husband claims that I can control this sleep issue, if I only tried. It’s not for lack of trying, or thinking, or wanting; I just can’t do it.

I’ve always been able to hide my sleep problems, but as my children get older, I’m faced with solving them. I can’t get up in the morning to get them ready/off to school. They are often late for class and it’s hard to explain that “their Mother is the problem.” They blame me, even though I claim “sleep disorder.” I’ve missed carpools, and I’m embarrassed to tell the various moms why this occurs. I’m currently working at home, so I don’t need excuses for employers. One day, soon, this will be an issue.

As a kid, I used to claim that I could fall asleep anywhere, at any time. I used to take bets. Falling asleep was never an issue, except at night.

Issue 2: Certain foods make me suddenly fall asleep. After eating carbohydrates, and some corn-derived ingredients, I fall fast asleep. I may sleep for ½ hr. or 4 hrs; again I have almost no control. If I’m driving, I can conjure up enough energy to wait until I get home to nosedive on the couch. On a few rare instances, I have pulled to the side of the road to deal with my sleep attack. When this need to sleep attacks my body, it’s like a wave, or force that takes over my entire being, and whoosh… I’m sleeping. These foods also cause migraines, urticaria, joint pains, facial twitching, and a host of other complaints. Oftentimes I can avoid “the bad foods,” but sometimes any food will just sneak-up and cause sleepiness.

This food “thing” became apparent about 10 years ago, after giving birth to my second child. (By the way, this child is highly allergic to eggs & nuts.)

You may say, “avoid” the things that make you sleepy. But, that’s like saying, “don’t eat.” And, one day a food may affect me, and another day, it may not. Help!

Here are some examples of food-induced sleep:

I bought Chinese food for my daughter, stole her fortune cookie, and ate the cookie while in the parking lot of her pediatrician. While waiting in the reception room, I fell asleep. This “eat to sleep” time was 15 minutes.

I had to pick up my daughter up at school at 4:00 p.m. It was 2:00 p.m., and I was feeling fine. I ate two bites of a store bought brownie, and within a ½ hr, I found myself laying down, and awoke at 4:30 p.m. When I awoke, I didn’t know where I was (in my living room), what day it was (Sunday, or Monday), and what I had to do next … until it hit me that I was supposed to be at school a half hour ago!

I can wake up feeling fine (a good day for me), have a bowl of granola, read the newspaper, and find myself weak in the bones and mind. I don’t want to go to sleep, but if I don’t, I just don’t think I can go on. It’s like “something” takes over, and the need for sleep is so great that it overwhelms all other body/brain systems. Again, I awake at 1:00 p.m., finding most of my productive day gone. It’s extremely frustrating. I don’t like it, I don’t want to be like this, but I can’t change it. And no one gets it.

Or, I’m at a party. I have 15 potato chips, and my need to sleep is overwhelming. (I get light- headed, my head starts bobbing up and down, and my eyes seem to be moving all around. I just can’t stay up.) I join the kids, in another room to “hide,” and ½ hour later, the hostess wakes me up to be sure I’m O.K. My husband is embarrassed, and I don’t know what to say. How can I explain this?

All day, I’m fine. It’s the last day of tax season and I’m looking forward to being with my husband. I’m at a restaurant for dinner, not wanting to eat anything that will put me to sleep. I eat an innocuous salad with 2 T of Thousand Island dressing. I come home, watch TV with my family, feel my head start to bob, and fall fast asleep until I awake at midnight, when everyone else is asleep.

What do I do? In fact, its 2:30 p.m., and after 2 low-fat ice cream bars (2 Weight Watcher points), I’m fighting sleep. I have to pick up the carpool at 3:15 p.m.; I can’t miss it. This is tough. My eyes want to close. I’m yawning 1,2,3…can’t stop. Going to go outside and get some fresh air to ward off the sleep attack…until the next one.


A patient that needs a solution…fast!

Dear parent who needs a solution,

Your suffering is very real and became a topic of a very intensive study. The scientific name for your issue # 1 is Sleep Drunkenness. This is a condition when the person has extreme difficulties to wake and is in a confusional state for a long time.

In your case Sleep Drunkenness is also connected to food, and both of these issues are caused by metabolic disorder. In this issue of Sleep and Health you will find out articles explaining that these conditions might be the result of bacteria activity in your guts. Some bacterias while digesting your food produced substances that are so sopotrophic (sleep inducers) that they could be comparable to anesthesia. Frequently, these conditions are found in people with chronic GI problems or those on strict diets.

Based on these findings, you may contact your doctor or GI specialist to discuss ways to correct your digestive system. If this is not helpful, consult a sleep specialist to rule out primary sleep disorders.

Best wishes.