The Takeaway

  • Though not everyone decides to disclose their narcolepsy to their employer, those who do find it’s best to discuss narcolepsy with their supervisor before any problems arise.
  • Alertness at work is often improved by thoughtful timing of medications, getting enough sleep at night, and fitting in a brief nap during the workday.
  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, many employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to help employees fulfill their work obligations.

Determining whether and when to disclose narcolepsy to people at work is a personal and sometimes difficult decision.

Managing narcolepsy in the workplace begins with the individual understanding his or her symptoms and perhaps talking with supervisors and co-workers about their symptoms. There is no “one size fits all” approach. In general, however, it’s often best to discuss narcolepsy at work before problems arise. For example, employers may be accommodating after learning that an afternoon nap improves the employee's productivity and that he or she is willing to stay late to make up the time spent napping. Without disclosure and some understanding of narcolepsy, employers may misinterpret sleepiness as disinterest or poor motivation.

Determining whether and when to disclose narcolepsy to people at work is a personal and sometimes difficult decision.

Informing employers 

People often feel anxious about discussing their narcolepsy with an employer, yet in some work environments, informal disclosure is the right option. After establishing a good rapport, an honest discussion with others about your narcolepsy can be very helpful. As most employers will be unfamiliar with narcolepsy, be prepared to give a brief explanation of the disorder and any symptoms that may arise at work. Provide them with a copy of What Is Narcolepsy? (PDF), and let them know about this website, directing them to specific content that relates to your situation. A letter from your sleep specialist can be helpful to document your diagnosis and further explain your symptoms. 

In advance, think about accommodations that will help you do your job better—such as scheduled nap times during work hours or flexible start and end times for the workday—and consider discussing them with your employer. 

In other settings, formal disclosure to your supervisor or human resources department may be appropriate to acquire reasonable accommodations. Many employers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act to help employees meet their essential job duties.

Narcolepsy educator Lisa Rezza describes workplace accommodations that may be available 

Telling co-workers 

Deciding to tell your co-workers about your narcolepsy can also be a difficult decision. Some peers may not know much about narcolepsy or may have misconceptions about the condition. If you can help educate them about what narcolepsy is and how it affects you, they may be less likely to form their own conclusions about sleepiness, cataplexy, and other symptoms of narcolepsy. Establishing trust, respect, and a good rapport with co-workers first may help them respond appropriately and supportively.

Improving alertness 

Here are some simple things you can do to improve alertness at work:

  • Work with your doctor to optimize the timing and doses of medications.
  • Get enough sleep at night. Know how a late night affects you and how best to recover.
  • Talk with your employer about fitting in a 15- to 20-minute nap during work.
  • Focus on your less exciting tasks at times when you are most alert.
  • Stay active at work by reading while standing up, keeping your office cool, and taking a break every 20 minutes to walk around.

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