Many schoolchildren try to sneak naps at their desks to get through the boring parts of class. Rainer Schmitt, on the other hand, always fought hard to stay awake. He would nod off anyway--in virtually every class period. And it was never the teacher's fault. Since childhood, Schmitt has suffered from an unusual neurological disorder: narcolepsy.
Now a 56-year-old math teacher, Schmitt still struggles with overwhelming daytime sleepiness and fatigue, the hallmark symptom of narcolepsy. Instead of feeling awake for 16 hours and sleepy for eight, as most people do, Schmitt, like other narcoleptics, wants to sleep every couple of hours during the day. Fleeting urges to nod off plague him. Eventually the desire to sleep is overwhelming, and then he may actually fall asleep, usually for a few seconds or up to several minutes. He may nod off in the middle of a lecture, meeting or conversation. He could even fall asleep at the wheel.