Kentucky Boy Falls Asleep for 11 Days Straight in Medical Mystery Baffling Doctors

Research on sleep recently won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Pedro Simões/Flickr

A boy from Kentucky has baffled doctors after falling asleep for 11 days straight for no apparent reason.

Seven-year-old Wyatt Shaw, from Elizabethtown, had fallen asleep on a Sunday night at the start of October following a wedding. The next day his mother, Amy, was unable to wake him, reports.

"It was horrible," she said. "I tried to wake him up, and he fell back to sleep," "(I'd say), 'Wyatt, Wyatt, Wyatt!' And he fell back to sleep again."

Wyatt was taken to the Norton Children's Hospital where he stayed asleep for another 10 days. Doctors carried out numerous tests to work out what was wrong, but the results all came back clear. "They said, 'we'll probably never know, but we're just going to treat him now with rehab to get him better,'" Shaw said.

To bring him out of his slumber, doctors used drugs normally used for treating seizures. After waking up, Wyatt had trouble walking and talking but his condition is improving and he understands what happened to him.

Sleep is normally regulated by our internal biological clock—the discovery of which recently won three U.S. scientists the Nobel Prize in Medicine. It is thought sleep is needed to rest and restore the brain and countless studies on sleep deprivation show the negative effects going without sleep can have on the mind and body.

The World Record for the longest period someone has gone without sleep is Randy Gardner, who managed 264.4 hours (11 days 25 minutes). Over this period, physicians saw serious cognitive changes, reporting problems with hallucinations, paranoia and his short-term memory.

While there is no official record for the longest time spent asleep, there are several syndromes that impact the sleep-wake cycle. These include narcolepsy, rare neurological condition where a person can suffer from "sleep attacks" where they fall asleep without any warning, and Kleine-Levin Syndrome, which is characterized by excessive amounts of sleep.

The latter disorder normally affects adolescents and episodes can last for weeks or even months. During these periods, normal day-time activities stop and the sufferer sleeps for most of the time, often only waking to eat and go to the bathroom.