Is It Simple Fatigue or Is It Narcolepsy?

We’ve all experienced times of being so tired that you just can’t keep your eyes open. For example, have you ever fallen asleep while someone was talking to you, maybe even at work? Have you ever felt so tired during the day that you had to pull off the road and take a short nap before you could continue driving?


That kind of daytime fatigue was probably the result of working late, lack of sleep or stress that interrupts quality slumber. Once you get some rest, you’re fine. But if you have narcolepsy, you can fall asleep during the day without warning. Even if you get plenty of sleep at night, you still fall asleep during daylight hours.

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes overwhelming daytime drowsiness. It’s sometimes called Excessive Uncontrollable Daytime Sleepiness or just Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS). No matter how you try to fight it or how many Red Bulls or triple shot lattes you drink, you can’t force yourself to stay awake.

Before being diagnosed with narcolepsy, you were likely the subject of jokes and criticism. You aren’t lazy and you aren’t faking. This is a very real medical disorder. If the condition worsens, it can interfere with your job, driving, social life and severely limit your normal activities.

Common Symptoms of Narcolepsy Are:

  1. Falling asleep one or more times during the day, even if you had plenty of sleep at night.
  2. You suddenly feel like your legs won’t support you. The feeling is one of fatigue – not fainting – and you are aware of the weakness that overcomes you.
  3. You can’t avoid falling asleep even when you’re doing things you enjoy like spending time with family and friends, participating in a sport, enjoying a hobby or attending a special event that you really wanted to attend.
  4. You may also suffer from binge eating, physical collapse while conscious, insomnia, hallucinations, or falling.

Over 200,000 people in the United States alone have been diagnosed with narcolepsy and that’s probably a much smaller number than those who are affected and don’t know what the problem is. It occurs equally in men and women, usually starting in adolescence. While there’s no medical proof that this condition is genetic, narcolepsy seems to occur in families with 8-12% having at least one close relative with this condition.

If you suffer from narcolepsy, driving a car or operating machinery can be deadly.

Falling Asleep While Driving

The way to find out if you have narcolepsy is with a sleep study and a polysomnogram. These are medical tests that are interpreted by a physician who specializes in sleep disorders. If you’re diagnosed with narcolepsy, you may be given prescription medication. You can also help yourself by making lifestyle changes, such as avoiding stressful activities or working too late before going to bed. Your doctor may recommend therapy or a support group.

Explain your condition and symptoms to family, friends and supervisor at work. You want people close to you to understand that your daytime sleepiness is not laziness, avoidance or lack of motivation but a medical problem that needs attention.


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