Conditions You May Have Along With Narcolepsy

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 12, 2023
4 min read

When you have narcolepsy, you may also have other medical conditions that can affect how tired you feel, how well you sleep, and other things. These conditions can make it harder for your doctor to diagnose and treat narcolepsy, so it's important to identify them.

Conditions that often go along with narcolepsy include:

People with narcolepsy are more likely to be overweight or obese. Adults with narcolepsy tend to weigh an average of 15% to 20% more than the general population. Doctors don't know why. Narcolepsy may slow down your metabolism. Or sleepiness could stop you from getting enough exercise.

People with narcolepsy are also more likely to have ADHD. One study found that as many as 30% of people with type 1 narcolepsy (the kind that includes cataplexy, sudden attacks of muscle weakness) also had ADHD. By comparison, some 2.5% of adults and 8.4% of children in the overall population have ADHD.

It's not clear what the link is. But lack of good-quality sleep can make you less attentive.

People with narcolepsy often have overlapping mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, narcolepsy is often misdiagnosed as a mental health condition, since the two often occur together and the symptoms can look similar.

Doctors don’t know whether living with narcolepsy leads to the psychiatric symptoms, or whether there’s some other connection.

Some mental illnesses that have been linked to narcolepsy include:

  • Depression. Some studies have shown that about 57% of people with narcolepsy deal with depression. By comparison, 4.7% of adults in the U.S. say they have regular feelings of depression. Depression may make you feel even more tired. Like narcolepsy, it can also lead to social isolation or cause you to gain weight.
  • Anxiety. As many as 53% of people with narcolepsy also deal with anxiety disorders -- far higher than the 18% rate among the general U.S. population. We need more research to know whether the two conditions have a common cause, or if the anxiety results from feelings narcolepsy can cause. Worrying about whether you'll get sleepy at a social gathering could lead to a panic attack.
  • Eating disorders. For some of the same reasons that narcolepsy is linked to obesity, it can also lead you to crave certain foods or binge eat.
  • Schizophrenia. Narcolepsy doesn't appear to raise your risk for schizophrenia. But because both conditions can cause hallucinations, narcolepsy can be mistaken for schizophrenia.

In addition to narcolepsy, you may have other disorders that make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. These could include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), restless legs syndrome, and insomnia.

Many people have both narcolepsy and OSA, which causes you to stop and start breathing during the night. Since both conditions cause daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can make it hard for doctors to diagnose narcolepsy.

People with narcolepsy can also have restless legs syndrome, which is an overwhelming urge to move your legs. It often happens at night or while you're resting. Scientists think this might be because narcolepsy sometimes leads to sleep paralysis, in which you can't move for a short time. This feeling could trigger the leg movements.

Insomnia is one of the symptoms of narcolepsy. Since the condition disrupts your sleep-wake cycle, you may have trouble staying asleep at night. Other narcolepsy symptoms, like vivid dreams and sleep paralysis, can also interrupt your sleep.

Narcolepsy is also linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Doctors don’t know exactly why, but some connections are clear.

Generally, your blood pressure lowers when you're sleeping. But for some people with narcolepsy, that doesn’t happen because of differences in brain chemicals. This can increase your risk for heart disease.

Also, some conditions that often occur along with narcolepsy can raise your risk of heart disease, such as obesity and depression.

Medications you take to stay awake when you have narcolepsy can also raise your heart rate and your blood pressure.

Living with narcolepsy can be challenging. Talk to your doctor about all the symptoms you have and other conditions that may also affect you. They can help you manage your overlapping health conditions. Regular visits with your doctors will also help them monitor your medications and possible side effects.