A life consumed by sleep

Over the last several years, David Rye, MD, PhD, has been calling attention to the neglected status of idiopathic hypersomnia, or IH. Hypersomnia means “too much sleep,” but the word idiopathic can be confounding. It means the cause is not known.

Sleep scientists have argued about IH’s origin and mechanisms, and whether it’s one, two or many entities. Rye and his team have an idea for how to redraw the map.

“We’re trying to change sleep medicine here,” Rye says. “We want to at least get patients in through the right doorway so that we can direct them more swiftly to an accurate diagnosis and a tailored treatment.”

Sleep specialists are trained to recognize conditions that can render someone drowsy, with two of the most common being sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Sleep apnea comes from interruptions in breathing, which interfere with sleep’s restorative nature and put strain on the heart. Narcolepsy—one form of it, at least—is also well-understood: an autoimmune attack eliminates cells in the brain that keep someone awake and alert.

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