Minnesota Man Struggles With Eating, Wandering While Sleeping

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota man says his rare sleep condition has gotten so bad, he worries about his own safety.

“I’ll go to the refrigerator in the middle of the night and not even know it,” he said. “And I’ll take a block of cheese and I start eating it like an apple.”

The stories can be funny.

“I came back to bed and I had frosting all over my face, and in my neck and in my hair,” he said.

But mostly, the sleep issues haunting J. Smith have become a real nightmare, like the time he wandered onto the highway in the middle of the night.

“It’s very scary to wake up in my underwear in the middle of a highway with a semi going around me,” Smith said. “Another time I fell off our deck. Our deck is about 15 feet off the ground and … I fell right over it. Until I hit the ground, I didn’t know I had done that.”

He broke seven ribs that time. Smith said he’s always been a sleepwalker, but over the past few years he’s turned into a sleep eater too. Add sleep apnea to the equation, and doctors say his condition is extremely rare.

“The eating part and the sleeping part — some people have one or the other. But I seem to have both,” Smith said.

What’s causing this isn’t exactly clear. Smith is also battling colon cancer and will undergo an operation, but his sleeping problems have been around longer than his cancer diagnosis. Doctors at Fairview Sleep Center in Edina said his problems could be related to stress, medication or restless leg syndrome.

“I can imagine he doesn’t get good sleep,” Smith’s wife Bridget said. “I don’t get good sleep, he can’t get good sleep. He wakes up, he’s tired, he’s exhausted. I want him to be healthy and happy and he’s not.”

With a newborn daughter at home, Smith is willing to try anything to get a good night’s rest. Active and unpredictable nights are making for exhausting days.

“It’s a very rare thing. I hope that in today’s modern technology, so to speak, and medicine, there is a cure for this,” said Smith.

Smith is hoping his colon cancer surgery goes well. Once that’s taken care of, he said he plans on undergoing another sleep test to see what’s going on.

More from John Lauritsen
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