A neurological disease called narcolepsy interferes with your brain’s sleep-wake cycles.

People who have this illness frequently experience a strong want to sleep, even in the middle of conversations or meals.

A more prevalent disease called sleep apnea causes your breathing to stop periodically while you’re asleep.

Although a physical obstruction in the throat is the most frequent cause, neurological conditions can also be to blame.

Despite the fact that all conditions are sleep disorders, the signs, and remedies for each ailment differ greatly.

Continue reading to discover more about the distinctions between sleep apnea and narcolepsy.



Two sleep diseases that are distinguished by excessive daytime sleepiness are narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

The signs and symptoms of the two illnesses are very different. Sudden, unpredictable sleep attacks are a hallmark of narcolepsy. 

✅ Breathing disturbances while you sleep are a sign of sleep apnea.

If you suspect either problem, it’s crucial to see a doctor. Your chances of complications might be decreased with the help of a doctor.


Different types of sleep apnea

Based on the underlying cause, sleep apnea is divided into three groups:

  • Obstructive snoring. The most prevalent variety, obstructive sleep apnea, affects up to 14% of men and 5% of women. When you are asleep, it happens when there is a physical impediment in your mouth or throat.
  • Central snoring. When something prevents your brain from sending the signal to your body to breathe, central sleep apnea develops.
  • Complex apnea during sleep. Obstructive and central sleep apnea are combined to form complex sleep apnea.


What signs of narcolepsy and sleep apnea are present?

Daytime sleepiness can be caused by both sleep apnea and narcolepsy, although the other symptoms are extremely different.

Sleep apnea

Your breathing stops and starts while you sleep if you have sleep apnea. These gaps could be brief or prolonged. Additional indicators and symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive daily sleepiness and lethargy, loud snoring, frequent awakenings, gasping for air while asleep, dry mouth and headaches after waking, impaired sexual function and low libido, and frequent nighttime urine.


Narcolepsy symptoms and signs include excessive daytime sleepiness, excessive daytime sleepiness, which can strike unexpectedly.

Signs and symptoms of narcolepsy are:

  • Oversleeping during the day. A need for sleep throughout the day comes on aggressively without any warning at all.
  • Cataplexy. In around 10% of cases, cataplexy an abrupt loss of muscle tone is the first observable sign. These attacks might be modest, simply resulting in drooping eyelids, or they can be severe, affecting your entire body and resulting in collapse.
  • Paralysis during sleep. People with narcolepsy frequently develop sleep paralysis. The brief incapacity to move while on the verge of sleep is known as sleep paralysis.
  • Hallucinations. Some people have intense hallucinations during naps and as they are falling asleep, which are typically visual.
  • Restless sleep. Despite being sleepy during the day, many narcoleptics have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
  • Automatic actions during sleep. Narcoleptics may nod off while conversing or eating and carry on for a few seconds or minutes before becoming aware of their surroundings.



What brings on sleep apnea and narcolepsy?

There are several probable causes for both sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

Causes of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can be brought on by neurological issues or throat obstructions. The following are contributing elements:

  • Obesity
  • Massive tonsils
  • endocrine disorders including hypothyroidism and acromegaly
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • chronic conditions of the lungs, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • some neuromuscular diseases, such as stroke
  • some genetic conditions, like Down syndrome or cleft palate
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Myotonic Dystrophy
  • Co-existing conditions:
  • chronic lung conditions like COPD or asthma
  • pregnancy

Causes of narcolepsy

There are two types of narcolepsy, type 1 and type 2. Cataplexy occurs in patients with type 1, but not in those with type 2.

The neurological system has low amounts of the protein hypocretin in almost all people with type 1 narcolepsy. This protein supports wakefulness by regulating sleep cycles. In some individuals, up to 90% of the neurons responsible for producing this protein are destroyed.

  • autoimmune disorders
  • family history, and genetic variables, may be responsible for this protein’s high levels.
  • brain damage

Type 2 narcolepsy’s root cause is still mostly unclear.


Can narcolepsy cause sleep apnea or vice versa?

The relationship between narcolepsy and sleep apnea is still being researched. However, it seems that those with narcolepsy may have a higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea than those without.

Studies have revealed a connection between narcolepsy and a higher BMI (BMI). Similarly, studies have discovered a link between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. A BMI of 25 or less is seen to represent moderate weight, but a BMI of 30 or above is thought to suggest obesity.

The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in those with narcolepsy ranges from 2 to 68 percent, according to studies released between 2000 and 2013. Small sample numbers and different classifications of obstructive sleep apnea are the leading causes of the huge disparity.

In a 2019 study, researchers discovered that among 141 persons with narcolepsy, 26 had type 1, 17 out of 26 people with type 1 had obstructive sleep apnea, 65 percent of people with type 1 had it,115 had type 2, and 34% of those with type 2 had obstructive sleep apnea.

In a 2018 study, researchers in Olmsted County, Minnesota, discovered that obstructive sleep apnea was the most prevalent medical issue in 68 patients with narcolepsy.

There is no evidence that those who suffer from sleep apnea are more likely to experience narcolepsy.


Is it possible to have both sleep apnea and narcolepsy?

It is possible to experience both narcolepsy and sleep apnea simultaneously. Combining both disorders may make diagnosis more challenging.


Could my daytime fatigue may be brought on by another illness?

There are other more illnesses that might make you feel exhausted all day. Sleep deprivation, drugs, such as sedatives, beta-blockers, antihistamines, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and opioids, hypothyroidism, insomnia, and overnight urination are a few of these causes.

Others include brain traumas, starvation, anxiety, sadness, and other sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism, as well as stroke, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, and myotonic dystrophy.


Taking care of the two ailments

Continue reading to find out about narcolepsy and sleep apnea treatment options.

Slumber apnea

Treatment for sleep apnea concentrates on controlling underlying issues and enhancing airflow while you’re sleeping. It could involve:

  • Bilevel positive airway pressure therapy (BiPAP) and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
  • side sleeping
  • dental implants
  • losing weight
  • surgery
  • to lessen blockage of the upper airway
  • to manage underlying medical issues
  • to implant a pacemaker-like device to stimulate certain tongue nerves


Both medicine and lifestyle modifications are used to treat narcolepsy.

Short naps, regular sleep schedules, abstaining from caffeine and alcohol, especially before night, daily exercise, avoiding heavy meals before bed, and soothing hobbies before bed are just a few examples of lifestyle habits.

Medications include modafinil, pitolisant (Wakix), solriamfetol (Sunosi), amphetamine-like stimulants, antidepressants, and sodium oxybate.


How do physicians identify them?

The first step in diagnosing narcolepsy or sleep apnea is to consult your primary healthcare provider. They will examine you physically and go over your medical background. They could suggest that you get additional testing from a specialist if they think you have a sleep condition.

Polysomnography is the gold standard for obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis. You’ll spend the test night in the sleep lab or hospital, where the following metrics will be assessed:

  • alterations in the airflow in front of the nose and mouth; changes in blood oxygen levels as detected by pulse oximetry; and the effort required to breathe.
  • electroencephalogram (EEG) readings of brain waves; electrooculogram (EOM) readings of eye movement; electrocardiogram readings of heart rate and rhythm (ECG)
  • electromyograph measurements of muscle activity (EMG)

Narcolepsy can also be diagnosed via polysomnography. A multiple sleep latency test, which assesses how long it takes you to fall asleep, is another test used to identify narcolepsy. A spinal tap may occasionally be used by a physician to remove a sample of hypocretin from your cerebrospinal fluid.


When should I go and visit a doctor?

If you think you might have a sleep condition, you should see a doctor right away so they can properly diagnose and treat you.

Although narcolepsy isn’t thought to be fatal, sleep bouts have the potential to cause fatal mishaps and injuries. Numerous disorders that can be fatal are associated with sleep apnea.



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