Daily Archives: February 26, 2020

Narcolepsy vs. Sleep Apnea

When I first started working at Monitor Medical and learning all about sleep apnea, one of my initial thoughts was ‘what the difference between this and narcolepsy, they sound pretty similar.’ The simple answer, which I now know, is that a person who suffers from sleep apnea can stop breathing throughout the night which will more than likely lead to daytime sleepiness and other symptoms compared to that of someone who says that they are sleeping well and just falls asleep anywhere at any time (I guess it’s not really all that simple after all!). Now while that sounds like two different things, you’d be surprise to learn just how similar these two sleep disorders are.

Beginning with signs and symptoms – both disorders include symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness. Although, I think those who suffer from narcolepsy worry about this symptom much more than those who have sleep apnea due to the fact that they can literally fall asleep anywhere, at any time. Narcolepsy does not discriminate when it comes to when it hits, it doesn’t care if you are in the car on the way to work, or in a very important meeting; when it hits, it hits and there is pretty much nothing you can do about it.
Another thing that both disorders have in common is sleep paralysis. You know that feeling when you’re tucked away in bed comfortably, and then all of sudden it feels as though someone has pulled the rug out from under you and you’re falling? You wake up right after and sort of move around, right, and then you’re no longer falling? Can you imagine not being able to move? Imagine being frozen in that moment. You’re not able to bring yourself out of that moment. Can you imagine how scary that is? Sleep paralysis doesn’t last for more than a few minutes, but those few minutes can seem like a lifetime when you’re not able to do anything about.

I think the scariest part of narcolepsy is the sudden loss of muscle tone. Scientifically known as cataplexy, this can take the form of slurred speech to weakened muscles. Like sleep paralysis, the lose of muscle tone only lasts a few minutes. Not all individuals who suffer from narcolepsy experience the loss of muscle tone; these ‘episodes’ can also be as rare to occur one to two times a year or be a daily occurrence.
There are a few more symptoms that are more directly related to narcolepsy, however I feel as though we have discussed the most serious ones. Now, it is important to note that patients can suffer from one or both of these sleep disorders at the same time, but having one does not necessarily mean you will have the other. It’s not something that goes hand-in-hand. Being that we are in the business of sleep, it’s good to be aware of the different disorders that are similar to sleep apnea and how they are different.

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