Is It Sleepiness or Narcolepsy?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Even if you have the best intentions to stick to a healthy sleep schedule, can’t-keep-your-eyes open exhaustion happens. Excessive sleepiness is most likely to occur when you don’t get enough sleep at night. Even losing just 30 minutes can lead to grogginess.If you’re getting enough sleep but still feel tired during the day, a disorder like sleep apnea may be to blame. But if you have trouble participating in normal activities—whether that means hanging out with friends or eating a meal—without nodding off, it’s possible that narcolepsy is at the root of the problem.

Narcolepsy is more than just feeling ultra tired. It’s actually a chronic brain disorder. People with narcolepsy have poorly regulated sleep-wake cycles, so they experience sudden and involuntary attacks of daytime sleepiness—whether for a few seconds or minutes—and often aren’t able to resist the urge to sleep. They may also be affected by a condition called cataplexy, which causes their muscles to temporarily weaken. As a result, their eyelids may droop, their jaws could slacken, or they may even collapse to the ground.

Narcolepsy isn’t very common—it affects only about one in 2,000 people—so if your noggin is bouncing around like a Bobblehead doll’s as you try to keep your eyes open during a meeting, it’s most likely a lack of shuteye that’s to blame. But talk to a doctor if you’re routinely unable to stay awake during the middle of the day.

If you are diagnosed with narcolepsy, your physician may prescribe a stimulant drug to help keep you alert. Scheduling naps throughout the day could also make you feel more refreshed. And some of the same tactics that help everyone beat tiredness, such as sticking to a consistent bedtime schedule, avoiding alcohol, and exercising regularly may help you manage your sleepy symptoms.