Medical Mystery: Body's Own 'Valium' Leads to Extreme Sleepiness

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Holding the pills under her tongue leads to almost immediate relief of her symptoms. "The pills taste terrible," she said. "But it's better than a port in my vein."

Interestingly, Sumner's condition may not be as rare as currently thought. Rye and his colleagues tested flumazenil on seven of the patients in their study, and found that it helped them all to some extent.

"It may be time to reclassify the sleep disorders," Rye said, noting that future study could include an assessment of the fraction of people who have similar sleep-causing substances in their spinal fluid. "The problem is that we do not yet have a rapid, accurate test for it."

Rye's lab continues to study this group of sleeping disorders, and hopes that a method of mass-producing flumazenil pills or creams may be developed. They suspect that these sleeping disorders may be far more common than currently thought.

"Flumazenil pills under the tongue worked for one patient," Rye said. "There is no reason to think that it couldn't help 10,000 needy patients.

"It is a life-changing treatment," Sumner said. "I want everyone with this disorder to feel the way I do."

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