Q: My 33-year-old husband has a sleep disorder. When he is asleep he hears no sounds – including his three alarm clocks, telephone, or any loud noises. I have to make several attempts to wake him for work which often results in me being late for my work. He is tired all through the day and has very low energy levels. The problem has been going on for several years and seems to be worsening as time goes on.
He has talked to our family doctor about this disorder that runs in his family, along with insomnia and sleep walking. The doctor did a physical exam and ran blood work to test for low iron, thyroid problems, and other abnormalities. Nothing other than what was described as a “old mono virus” was found. A CT was run on his brain and nothing was found there. He was tested for sleep apnea as his brother has that condition, but was not found to have any problems there.
This has presented a problem for him at his job. He’s frequently late for work and loses energy as the day goes on. His boss has been supportive in the past but is beginning to be frustrated since no medical cause can be found.
When my husband is not at work, he is sleeping. If left undisturbed, he will sleep up to 16 hours straight. He used to play golf frequently, doesn’t socialize much, and seldom has enough energy to play with our son. He hasn’t lost interest, just energy. He says he has to force himself to do things physically. He has become depressed and sees no way of getting better.
Do you have any suggestions on what type of doctor we can see, tests we should request, or treatments we should seek. You are our last hope. If my husband loses his job, we could probably lose our home.
A: It appears you have done everything medically possible and have come up empty handed, a situation that must be painful for everyone. The amount of sleep a person requires varies, depending on age, daily activity levels, general health and lifestyle. The average individual sleeps between seven and nine hours a day – not 16. A condition known as hypersomnia is a medical disorder. Many individuals with the condition have low energy, memory problems, periods of anxiety, and most pronounced – a constant need to sleep the day away. You have addressed sleep apnea and depression, so we will bypass those. However, how about diabetes? Is your husband aware (or even care) that excessive sleep patterns may increase his risk for diabetes, trigger headaches, lead to obesity, cause back pain, and invite cardiac issues?
There may be an underlying cause for your husband’s condition (such as narcolepsy) that hasn’t been identified as yet, or a medication he is on that is reacting adversely. There are also a number of sleep disorders other than sleep apnea that may require a consultation with a sleep medicine specialist. You might choose to speak with your family physician about those possibilities. Your next step (and with his permission, of course) might be to make an appointment with the sleep medicine specialist I mentioned, followed by a psychiatrist or psychotherapist who may be able to get to the bottom of the issue with him. Because of having ordered a CT of his head, it appears his physician(s) may have been considering a neurological connection. Something may have been missed along the way that needs to be determined to allow your husband and his family to have a life again.