Abstract Problem sleepiness is emerging as a medical problem in the US and Britain. Though an increasingly salient complaint, clinical medicine is only peripherally involved in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep troubles. Paramount in shaping public perceptions and experiences of sleep are the popular media. The apparent chasm between self-reported sleep troubles and the routine medical gaze is the point of departure for this inquiry. Aided by the idea of rhetorical authority, a case is made for the conspicuous influence of newspapers, magazines and the Internet in shaping a persuasive cultural directive to become conscious of soporific states and their possible deleterious consequences. Attending to this cultural directive, a growing number of people are self-diagnosing with a novel sleep disorder, excessive daytime sleepiness. The increasing significance of popular culture in the creation of medical troubles summons an alternative version of medical sociology. A limited case for this claim is made by revisiting two key ideas in this field: naming diseases and the classic distinction between illness and disease.