Understanding Narcolepsy Vs Sleep Apnea

Photo of sleeping young woman lies in bed with eyes closed.

Many people have been trying to compare narcolepsy vs sleep apnea. But before that, let’s ask you first — how do you get through the day when you’re tired all the time?

We’ve all felt that way at one time or another, but for people who have narcolepsy or sleep apnea, that fatigue is more than just a passing feeling. They live with extreme sleepiness every day.

While some people may be tempted to down a cup of coffee when they start to feel tired, it’s not that easy for people with narcolepsy or sleep apnea because the problem is more than just a lack of sleep.

To learn about the difference between narcolepsy vs sleep apnea, keep reading.

Comparing Narcolepsy Sleep Disorder Vs Sleep Apnea

Narcolepsy and sleep apnea are two different disorders that share some similarities in the way they interrupt sleep patterns and quality. There is not such thing as narcolepsy sleep apnea. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes attacks of extreme sleepiness. Narcolepsy both cause daytime sleepiness. It can particularly be severe if left untreated.

Sleep apnea, on the other hand, is marked by periodic pauses in breathing during the night that can prevent restful sleep. Sleep apnea affects breathing. The two disorders may present similar sleep apnea symptoms such as daytime sleepiness and irritability. However, they are caused by very different internal factors.

Sleep apnea snoring is caused by Obstructive Airflow Disorder and can be aggravated by:

  • high blood pressure
  • smoking
  • obesity

Narcolepsy, on the other hand, is caused by a disruption of the brain’s natural cycle of wakefulness and sleep. Treatment for the two conditions will vary, but the key is to recognize the symptoms and get appropriate medical attention.

When comparing sleep apnea or narcolepsy, narcolepsy are very different conditions than sleep apnea. However, sleep apnoea and narcolepsy both cause daytime sleepiness. They are both chronic sleep disorders. Therefore, narcolepsy or central sleep apnea must be treated accordingly.

Narcolepsy Vs Sleep Deprivation

Narcolepsy and sleep deprivation both have a major impact on quality of life. However, each condition has its own unique set of characteristics. Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks.

People with narcolepsy often have difficulty staying awake during the day. They may experience other narcoleptic symptoms such as:

  • cataplexy
  • sleep paralysis
  • vivid dreams

On the other hand, sleep deprivation is caused by not getting enough sleep and is common in today’s culture. Symptoms of sleep deprivation include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and irritability.

While both can lead to diminished quality of life, it is important to note that narcolepsy is characterized by distinct symptoms and is a chronic condition, while sleep deprivation is the result of not getting enough sleep and can be avoided.

Can Narcolepsy Cause Sleep Apnea

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that results in excessive sleepiness. It can interfere with the normal day-to-day activities of the person. This disorder can also cause sleep apnea. It can as well lead to the temporary suspension of breathing while asleep.

In people with narcolepsy, episodes of sleep apnea can occur during the day when the person falls asleep suddenly. It can also happen at night when the person experiences fragmented sleep. The consequences of sleep apnea in narcolepsy can be worse than in other conditions.

People with narcolepsy may be more likely to experience severe sleep apnea. Thus, resulting in potentially dangerous complications such as:

  • difficulty breathing
  • heart problems
  • daytime sleepiness

It is therefore important for those living with narcolepsy to be aware of the potential for sleep apnea and seek appropriate medical care.

Sleep Apnea Vs Insomnia

Sleep apnea and insomnia are two separate disorders. However, they are sometimes confused. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep and is a potentially life-threatening condition.

Insomnia is characterized by:

  • difficulty in falling asleep
  • staying asleep
  • waking up too early

Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea can include:

  • daytime sleepiness
  • loud snoring
  • waking up with a sore throat
  • gasping for air

Insomnia, meanwhile, is usually accompanied by daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and other signs of sleep deprivation. Common treatments for sleep apnea include lifestyle modifications, the use of a CPAP machine, and in some cases, surgery.

On the other hand, insomnia is usually treated through the use of relaxation techniques, behavioral therapy, and in some cases, medications.

How to Know If You Have Narcolepsy or Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is not a neurological condition. Narcolepsy has nothing to do with obstructive breathing. Narcolepsy and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can both cause severe disruptions in sleep and can have considerable health implications.

The way to differentiate between these two sleeping disorders is through a detailed medical evaluation that includes a physical exam and sleep study. Your physician may also inquire about your family health history and recommend a psychosocial evaluation to rule out the possibility of depression or other mental health issues.

To accurately diagnose either sleep disorder, an overnight sleep study will be conducted to measure your level of oxygen while you sleep, which will identify whether or not you suffer from narcolepsy or OSA.

Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy Symptoms

Sleep apnea is an oftentimes serious disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep. It can occur multiple times during one night. It can be accompanied by choking or gasping sounds. This can lead to excessive sleepiness during the day and difficulty concentrating and staying focused.

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to regulate their sleep-wake cycles. The patients here are mostly experiencing extreme fatigue and episodes of sleep. Sleep can only last from a few seconds to several minutes.

Both conditions can disrupt normal sleeping habits. Thus, leading to daytime drowsiness and fatigue. Other sleep apneas and narcolepsy symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • irritability
  • forgetfulness
  • anxiety
  • irregular heartbeats
  • reduced awareness of the surrounding environment

The best course of treatment for both these conditions consists of lifestyle changes like reducing stress, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, exercising regularly, and managing sleeping habits. Medical interventions including CPAP therapy and medications may be necessary.

Can You Have Sleep Apnea and Narcolepsy

It is possible to have both sleep apnea and narcolepsy at the same time, although it is rare. Having both sleep apnea and narcolepsy together can be detrimental to the quality of life of the patient as it can lead to:

  • greater fatigue
  • diminished cognitive abilities
  • risk of cognitive impairment
  • dangerous sleepiness

Treatment for both involves lifestyle changes, medications, and potentially surgery. As these two conditions can be complex, it is important to consult a physician if you think you may have both sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

When and Why Should You Go for a Sleep Test?

A sleep test should be considered when someone experiences chronic, ongoing symptoms of disturbed sleep, such as:

  • frequent awakenings
  • excessive daytime fatigue
  • snoring
  • sudden involuntary movements in sleep

Such symptoms indicate the presence of underlying sleep disorders, such as:

  • sleep apnea
  • restless legs syndrome
  • narcolepsy

A sleep test helps to accurately diagnose these and other sleep disorders. The results of the test can help the doctor develop a tailored treatment plan for the patient’s particular needs. If a patient is having difficulty in managing their daytime fatigue due to their sleep problems, it is a good idea to seek out a sleep specialist and have a sleep test done.

It may also be necessary if daytime sleepiness or other symptoms are interfering with the patient’s job and functioning in other areas of their life. Taking the proactive step of going for a sleep test can lead to a better quality of life for the patient.

When and Why Should You Go for a Narcolepsy Test?

If you’re feeling excessive daytime sleepiness, struggling to stay awake during boring activities, having hallucinations or vivid dreams, or even having bouts of sudden sleepiness, then you may want to consider getting a narcolepsy test.

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by intermittent lapses of consciousness. A test can help to diagnose any underlying issues. It can take the appropriate steps in getting the right treatment for the condition.

Testing can also help you to realize if there are any underlying issues to the problems that need to be addressed, such as:

  • stress
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • neck pain

Usually, doctors provide tests that involve questionnaires and actigraphy, which measures your sleep patterns with a wrist sensor worn on the arm. You must take this test to determine if you suffer from narcolepsy so that the right treatment can be provided.

What to Expect When Going for a Narcolepsy Test

When going for a narcolepsy test, you can expect to fill out a questionnaire detailing your medical history, lifestyle, and interests. Your doctor may ask you questions regarding:

  • sleep patterns
  • sleepiness
  • mood

Depending on the test results, your doctor may prescribe a sleep study (polysomnogram), an EEG, a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), or other tests. During the test, you may be asked to perform activities while being monitored, such as:

  • reading aloud
  • solving math problems
  • playing video games

You may also have to wear a device that records activity and breathing, as well as electrodes attached to your scalp, face and chin for an EEG. If medications are prescribed, your doctor will explain their possible side effects and monitoring guidelines.

You can expect to be asked to make an appointment for a follow-up visit to review the results of the test. After all, tests have been performed, the doctor will be able to determine the severity of narcolepsy and the best treatment.

What to Expect When Going for a Sleep Test

When going for a sleep test, you should expect to stay overnight in a sleep clinic. Once you arrive, a technician will perform a physical check-up, such as measuring your heart rate and blood pressure.

Next, they will attach electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes to your scalp and chin to monitor your brain and muscle activity. The technician will then show you to your room and explain how to use the sleep study equipment. During the sleep period, the technician will monitor your:

  • breathing
  • oxygen levels
  • heart rate

You will also be monitored with a camera. After the sleep test, the technician will provide you with a printed report of your sleep patterns, which your doctor can use to diagnose any underlying sleep-related issues.

How to Search for a Clinical Advisor If You Are Suffering from OSA or Narcolepsy

It is important to find an experienced clinical advisor if you are suffering from OSA or narcolepsy. The first step should be consulting with your general physician. Ask if they can provide you with a list of clinical advisors that specialize in OSA and narcolepsy.

If this is not possible then you can search online for clinical advisors in your area. Research to find out which clinical advisors have the most experience with OSA and narcolepsy and read reviews of their services.

You can also ask your family, friends, or coworkers if they know of any clinical advisors they can recommend. Once you have decided on a few options then you should set up an appointment with the clinical advisor to discuss your condition and determine the best treatment plan for you.


Understanding the difference between narcolepsy and sleep apnea is key to getting the right diagnosis and treatment. Awareness of symptoms, prevention strategies, and treatment options improves your overall health and prevents long-term consequences. If you are suffering from either narcolepsy or sleep apnea, speak with your doctor and get tested to prevent further health issues.

If you want to read more sleep apnea resources, visit our blog or start searching for a clinical advisor siteurl or pubmed to add to your research knowledge.

Thanks for reading!

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