Lifting the Veil on Narcolepsy as a Disability

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder affecting the brain’s ability to direct sleep/wake cycles and if left undiagnosed, may interfere with psychological, social and cognitive function inhibiting academics, social interaction and work.  People with narcolepsy may experience broken sleep patterns throughout the night or an inability to sleep.  They may awaken in the morning refreshed only to experience extreme sleepiness during the day.

Nearly all individuals with narcolepsy with cataplexy have extremely low levels of naturally occurring chemical hypocretin.  Hypocretin regulates your REM sleep and wakefulness.  While the causes of narcolepsy are not totally understood, much of the research shows that it may result from a combination of factors such as autoimmune disorders, family history and brain injuries

Narcolepsy is diagnosed by clinical examination as well as a detailed medical history.  A physical exam is important to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms but there are two specialized tests, Polysomnogram and Multiple Sleep Latency Test, performed to diagnose Narcolepsy.  Although there is no cure for narcolepsy, some of the symptoms can be treated with medications such as Modafinil, antidepressants, sodium oxybate, and life style changes.  Taking short naps, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine or alcohol prior to bedtime, avoiding smoking and exercising daily are just some of the things you can do to reduce the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy greatly affects an individual’s daily activities by causing them to unwillingly fall asleep during activity such as driving, eating or talking.  Individuals have been known to suffer sudden muscle weakness while awake that makes them go limp or unable to move (cataplexy), vivid dream-like images or hallucinations, or total paralysis before falling asleep or awaking (sleep paralysis). Attending support groups has proven very beneficial for those with narcolepsy who want to develop coping skills or help with socialization in order to not feel isolated or embarrassed about their symptoms and condition.  These groups can provide people with a network of contacts who may help with practical and emotional support.

There is no cure for Narcolepsy but treatments such as medications and scheduled naps can reduce the symptoms.  Many adults struggle with daily functioning and headaches due to narcolepsy.  Their lives become detrimentally altered from lack of sleep and the symptoms associated with the condition.  According to the National Sleep Foundation’s website ( on Narcolepsy, people with narcolepsy have a tendency towards obesity which may be due to reduced metabolism and lower activity levels.  Narcolepsy has also been linked to an increased risk of developing depression due to stressful and isolating symptoms.  More testing is needed to link changes in a person’s mood over mental health in narcolepsy.

Adults with narcolepsy are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities.  Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration does not recognize narcolepsy as a medical condition automatically qualifying one for disability benefits. Because of this, it is also a struggle to obtain or keep disability benefits from an insurance company.  It is important to contact an attorney well versed in short term and long term disability who understands the diagnosis of Narcolepsy and its debilitating symptoms. Many of the large disability insurance companies, like Cigna, Lincoln, and Prudential, routinely reject disability claims based on narcolepsy saying that “there is no objective” evidence to support the claim.  The O’Ryan Law Firm has successfully represented numerous clients suffering from narcolepsy in short term and long term disability claims.

If you have been diagnosed with narcolepsy and are in need of help applying for short term or long term disability with an insurance company or need someone to represent you in your fight for continued disability, call Bridget O’Ryan Law Firm for a free consultation.