The other day, Fox correspondent and commentator Tucker Carlson was caught sleeping while taping the show Fox & Friends. When he awoke he appeared not to be aware that he had been on air during his nap. Take a look:
I understand that there were media references to narcolepsy (a sleep disorder associated with nocturnal sleep disruption, daytime sleep attacks, and other symptoms) pertaining to Carlson’s on-air snooze, and that he afterwards stated that he had found his nap refreshing. However, if you listen to the above video carefully, you will hear him suggest that sleep deprivation may have been to blame: “I sat in for Sean Hannity last night. It went late and all of a sudden I was sitting there and I was just having these happy thoughts and just dozed off.”
Alas, falling asleep on-air is a phenomenon not new to Fox News. Just for fun, I present to you yet another incident, this time from the Fox affiliate in Austin, Texas:
This sort of thing shows up in the media from time to time: someone in a televised program dozing on-air. It also makes sense for morning reporters and anchors particularly to be prone to this problem, because they typically have to awaken so early to go to work. Everybody’s having a great time with this latest episode with Carlson, too, as you can imagine: “Tuckered Carlson!” “Fox Snooze!” Though these incidents are kind of funny to watch, they also are an opportunity for people like me–who work in the realm of sleep medicine–to make some important points about daytime sleepiness. Here goes:
1. Daytime sleepiness is much more commonly caused by plain ol’ sleep deprivation than by narcolepsy. Most adults require around 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night to feel fully rested, and in our American culture many of us do not make time for this much sleep, at least consistently. How many people do you know that regularly get 7.5-8 hours of sleep each night? Sleep deprivation may well be the single most common cause of daytime sleepiness in the U.S. Narcolepsy, though not necessarily a rare disorder, is much less common than sleep deprivation.
2. A tendency to fall asleep by accident during the day is not equal to or the same as having narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a central nervous system disease, of which daytime sleepiness is a cardinal symptom; however, it is a very complex sleep disorder that we in sleep medicine continue to strive to understand through research. Many other things can cause daytime sleepiness: sleep deprivation; irregular sleep schedules; insomnia; untreated sleep apnea; the list goes on and on.
3. If you really DO have narcolepsy, a brief (15-20 minute) nap usually IS refreshing. This is one of many potentially distinguishing clinical features of narcolepsy; a brief nap in the setting of sleep deprivation alone may or may not be refreshing, and can often cause the napper to feel worse, not better, upon awakening, because only a small amount of the “sleep debt” was “paid back” during that nap. For my narcoleptic patients, I in fact typically recommend scheduled naps as part of their management regimen. But just because you find your naps refreshing doesn’t necessarily mean you have narcolepsy either.
Have a great Labor Day, everyone!