Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software Is There a Connection Between Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea?Sleep Source

Is There a Connection Between Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea?

Posted On November 13, 2013
November 13, 2013

You remember the PowerPoint slide with the colorful pie chart and the next thing you recall, the lecturer is asking the audience if they have any questions. Why? The topic was interesting and the lecturer was stimulating so neither caused you to nod off. But then again, this scenario happens, wherein you fall asleep in the middle of the day, 3 to 4 times a day! Or perhaps you are watching the hosts of “The View” interview George Clooney about his role in “Gravity.” You look up only to discover the handsome star is off the screen and now, find yourself staring at the credits for the talk show. Why did you nod off? Can’t be from boredom. But then again, falling asleep quite a number of times during daylight hours is not a one time and one time only, occurrence.

Do either of the above scenarios sound like a description of your day? Are you battling to stay awake when the sun is shining but don’t know why? There is a chance that you might have a condition that causes excessive sleepiness during the day. Other associated symptoms could be difficulty thinking and waking in the morning, naps don’t help offset daytime sleepiness, appetite loss, memory problems and personality changes such as anxiety and irritability.

Some common causes of excessive daytime sleepiness are intentionally not getting enough sleep, working at night instead of the day, obesity, and usage of certain medications. Nevertheless, there are specific medical conditions that are intimately associated with daytime sleepiness: narcolepsy, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.



Occurring without warning at any time and any place, daytime sleepiness is the hallmark of narcolepsy. It is theorized to be linked to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which causes humans to dream. In addition, individuals with this condition get “sleep attacks” whereby they are overcome by an incredible urge to sleep as well as sudden loss of muscle control and tone known as cataplexy. Sudden extremes in emotion such as excitement and anger can trigger an episode. When narcoleptics doze during the day they might experience hallucinations or frightening dreams. Due to the fact that these hallucinations occur when narcoleptics are half-awake, the dreams or visions are quite vivid and real.

Diagnosis of narcolepsy is determined upon physical examination, blood work and sleep study with additional tests sometimes being required. Narcolepsy can be treated with medication such as stimulants (improve daytime wakefulness), or antidepressants (decrease cataplexy and hallucinations). Other helpful tips to offset narcolepsy symptoms are taking 2-3 naps a day, following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, going to sleep at the same time on a consistent basis and relaxing before bed.


Sleep Apnea

Obstruction of your airway that results in stoppage of breathing multiple times during an hour at night is the hallmark of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This interrupted breathing prevents you from getting a good night of sleep and in turn can prompt sleepiness during the day.

In order to evaluate the possibility of OSA, a sleep study should be performed, which will determine the number of respiratory episodes occurring during the course of an hour. For the most part, treatment for sleep apnea treatment can include the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device and radiofrequency ablation (RFA) of the tongue base procedure. Depending upon the severity of your sleep apnea, the best course of treatment to resolve sleep apnea for each patient on an individualized basis can be determined.


Can You Have Both Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea?

In a study published in Sleep Medicine, researchers discovered that an individual can have both narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. However, an original diagnosis of only OSA can delay a narcolepsy diagnosis by 6.1 to 7.8 years on average. They concluded that evaluating people with known OSA for cataplexy can assist in excluding narcolepsy. As an aside, this study also determined that sleep apnea patients treated with CPAP did not see an improvement with regard to daytime sleepiness when they also were found to have narcolepsy.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea or been diagnosed and would like to find out what individualized treatment option might be available for you, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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