I Am Not 'Lazy,' I Have a Sleep Disorder
When I was in middle school, I was the kid that rushed to finish classwork so I could take a quick nap in class. Teachers wondered why I was so tired at school, but they didn’t look into it. While my classmates made my constant sleepiness into a nickname and started calling me “Grandma.” At home, I struggled to find time to do homework because my body constantly wanted to sleep, and ignoring it made me feel worse. My parents thought I was tired because of my schoolwork and chores, but I felt tired even without doing anything.
I thought it was cool as a kid that I knew the exact amount of time it took to run to school. I used this power to wake up and do homework before class started. Then I would run to make it to school on time so my mom wouldn’t be upset. I got through elementary/middle school with As and Bs, but my grades steadily declined in high school. I suddenly had more trouble waking up for school in the morning. I got one of my first detentions for constantly being late to first period.
After that, my body decided to retaliate even further and suddenly throughout the day, I would periodically knock out in class. My teachers saw this as me being bored and got angry instead of trying to help me. I remember my chemistry teacher forcing me to stand during class so I wouldn’t fall asleep while she was lecturing. I felt belittled and embarrassed because the whole class was laughing at me. At some point, my own table became annoyed at my constant napping, because my teacher would threaten to punish all of us if I fell asleep in class. Because of the group punishment, my tablemates started to nudge me if I was dozing off. Other teachers would ask me to go to the nurse or go to bed earlier so I would be awake in class. But I would soon learn there wasn’t an easy solution.
What teachers didn’t know was that I actually got a lot of sleep at home. I would go home after school and sleep for five hours before waking up to possibly get my homework done and then go back to sleep for the rest of the day. This added up to me sleeping around 12–16 hours a day. I would miss dinner if my mom didn’t bother to wake me up from my slumber or if the smell didn’t pull me out of my dreams. My mom didn’t know I was sleeping all day because she worked long shifts at work and didn’t come home until 8 or 9 p.m. She assumed I was playing video games all day, slacking off on doing chores and making excuses for my homework not being finished.
During my junior and senior year of high school, I was constantly asleep. I had started to fall asleep during tests and even passed out during my SAT test. My worst memory of falling asleep in class was in my senior year. I fell asleep during our AP Human Geography final. I was fighting so hard to stay awake because I wasn’t tired, and I didn’t want to fail. My friend was nudging me to wake me up, but she gave up since she had to focus on her own test. I finally won the fight to stay awake, but lost the fight to whatever dream I was having and woke up screaming during the final. I was so embarrassed from interrupting the final and everyone stared at me like I was a monster when I couldn’t even control what was happening. I apologized to the class, but after that moment I knew something was going on with me, but I didn’t know what.
This year for college, I decided I should get tested to fully see what sleep disorder I had. At this point, I was sure I had narcolepsy or sleep apnea. I went in for a sleep test and they stuck a bunch of wires to my face and recorded me sleeping for two days. It was hard to fall asleep in a bed that wasn’t mine with a bunch of wires coming from my face and my chest. I even had four on my legs and a strap across my chest! I didn’t understand how they expected anyone to sleep normally under such weird conditions, but luckily I got to wear my own pajamas. Also, since my hair is really curly, the electrodes kept popping off and the nurse had to keep reapplying the glue throughout the day. I was mostly stuck doing homework the second day of the study, but the hospital gave me breakfast and dinner which was really nice.
I had to wait three weeks to get my results and I was so anxious to find out what they would show. The doctor diagnosed me with idiopathic hypersomnolence. I was so confused because I had never even heard of the condition before my results. I immediately looked up the results and I had every symptom that was described. Reading about the condition made me feel validated about what was happening to me for most of my life. Everyone had chalked up my sleeping habits to me being “lazy,” but I actually had a sleep disorder the entire time. Everyone blamed my sleeping habits on making bad choices instead of recognizing that sleeping in every class period was my body crying out that something was wrong.
When someone you know is constantly falling asleep, don’t write them off as “lazy.” Ask them to get checked out so they can find out if they have a sleep disorder or another condition affecting them.
This story originally appeared on Lauryn’s blog.
Getty image by Shironosov.