Going to Work or School With Idiopathic Hypersomnia (IH)

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on March 22, 2024
4 min read

If you live with idiopathic hypersomnia (IH), it may be a challenge to get through the day at work or school. The urge to sleep can affect your ability to think and perform well. Your bosses, instructors, co-workers, and peers also might mistake your condition for laziness. Even driving to work or school can present challenges, as people with IH have a higher chance of driving accidents. 

Though it may take a little effort, you can still be productive at work or school if you have IH. To set yourself up for success, it might help to know your legal rights, let those around you know about your condition, and ask for help when you need it.

Whether IH is officially considered a disability is a little bit of a gray area. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t list specific medical conditions that qualify as a disability. Instead, they define a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 

This means some people with IH may qualify as having a disability, while others might not. You could have to provide medical records or test results to prove you have IH that’s disabling. 

If you have IH, you do have the legal right to ask your boss for special accommodations to help you complete your daily tasks. Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for their workers. But employers with fewer than 15 employees may not be required to make these adjustments. 

Reasonable requests should help you perform your necessary job duties but not cause too much hardship for your employer. It’s a good idea to ask for changes that you might need on your worst day. You can always tweak your agreement later on. 

There’s no “right” time to ask for special job accommodations. But it’s ideal to talk to your boss as soon as you realize IH may affect your ability to perform essential tasks. It’s also important to let your employer know about your condition before they fire or discipline you. If you don’t, they can let you go and lawfully say they didn’t know you had a disability. 

It’s important to remember that asking for accommodations doesn’t mean you’re “slacking off” or giving up control of your life. It’s a way to help you manage your symptoms while meeting your responsibilities.  

If you’re unable to work full time due to IH, you may qualify for disability insurance. This type of insurance pays you a part of your previous earnings when you can’t work. There are many types of disability insurance, and the amount you receive will depend on your plan. 

Research shows that people with IH are more likely to miss days and be less productive at work. Those with sleep disorders, like IH, also earn less money than those without sleep disorders.

You can boost your chances of success at work if you ask for accommodations to help you get through the day. For example, you might want to request:

  • Scheduled nap breaks 
  • A flexible work schedule
  • The option to work from home 
  • Scheduled time to walk or exercise
  • Shifts during times of the day when you are most alert
  • Special equipment, like a standing desk, if sitting makes you too sleepy
  • Work instructions that are provided in writing
  • The ability to assign nonessential tasks to co-workers 

You may need to have an official meeting with your boss and a rep from your company’s HR department to ask for specific accommodations. This will depend on where you work. 

Simple habits can also help you improve your alertness at work. Try to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, keep stress levels low, and follow a sleep hygiene routine. 

If you attend college, your first stop should be the school’s center for students with disabilities. This is the office that will help you make any accommodation requests. Usually, you’ll need to schedule a meeting, fill out an application, and supply medical documentation papers. 

You can ask for what are known as “academic adjustments,” such as:

  • Priority registration
  • A lighter course load
  • More time for test-taking
  • A note-taking service to provide materials if you miss class
  • Permission to record lectures

It’s important that you take good care of yourself while you’re in school. Schedule time for naps and make sure you get enough sleep at night. Also, work on assignments ahead of time when you have the most energy, so you don’t stress about them as much. It may also help to join a support group on campus. 

You might be nervous to talk to your boss, co-workers, or instructors about your condition. But remember, they can’t help you if they don’t know anything is wrong. 

When you talk to your boss, you may want to have a letter from your doctor on hand to explain your condition. 

A lot of people haven’t heard of IH, so it might be helpful to describe it as a condition that’s similar to narcolepsy. You can also give them basic informational materials about IH. 

If you opt to keep your condition private, that’s OK, too. In the end, it’s your decision about whether to talk about your personal health history.