Sleep Disorders Center of Santa Maria

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Safety precautions, particularly when driving, are particularly important for all persons with narcolepsy. 

Excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep attacks and cataplexy can lead to serious injury or death if  this is not managed well.  If you were to suddenly fall  asleep or lose muscle control a simple activity such walking down a stairs could become very dangerous.  Patients with untreated narcolepsy symptoms get into  automobile accidents approximately 10 times more frequently than the general population.  However, accident rates are normal in narcolepsy patients  who are getting  appropriate medications and treatment.

Support groups frequently prove extremely beneficial because people with narcolepsy may become socially isolated due to embarrassment about or misunderstandings related to their symptoms.  Although the Santa Maria area does not currently have a local narcolepsy support group you may want to become involved in an online narcolepsy support group.  Thru a support group, you may be able to develop a contacts who can offer practical help and emotional support to you.

You may also want to try avoiding strong emotions, since anger,  humor, laughter, excitement, and other intense feelings can trigger cataplectic attacks. 

Narcolepsy may be a disability to you regarding your employment.  It may be helpful to discuss your narcolepsy with your employer to see if you can modify your  work schedule to allow you to take a nap when necessary and to do your most critical and demanding tasks when you are most alert. 

School administrators are usually very happy to work with children and adolescents with documented narcolepsy to address special needs, such as modifying class schedules and helping children take their necessary medications.   

If you are concerned that you or a family member has narcolepsy please make an appointment to be seen by a sleep specialist. 

At the Sleep Disorders Center of Santa Maria we will not rest until you are resting better. 


Narcolepsy is a neurologic sleep disorder that makes you feel sleepy most of the time. People with narcolepsy sometimes fall asleep all of sudden, even when they don’t expect to. They can even fall asleep while they are in the middle of activities, such as eating, talking, or driving.

Approximately 1 in  2,000 people in the United States have narcolepsy.  Many people with narcolepsy are unaware of the condition and are undiagnosed. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder which causes irregular patterns in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and significant disruptions of the normal sleep/wake cycle. The cause of narcolepsy is not completely understood, our current understanding is that narcolepsy is caused by damage to a small group of neurons in the brain.  The damaged neurons normally make a neurotransmitter (hypocretin/orexin) which is important in alertness.   New research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors that influence the immune system and damage these neurons.


If you have been diagnosed with narcolepsy, you have several challenges to deal with.  Medications such as modafinil, armodafinil and Xyrem can be helpful in controlling the symptoms however even with medications your symptoms will probably not be completely  controlled.  Even with the use of medications most people with narcolepsy are unable to  maintain a normal state of alertness or wakefulness.  In addition to pharmacologic/drug therapy you will benefit from several behavioral recommendations depending upon your particular needs.

For most people with narcolepsy taking a planned regularly scheduled nap at the time when you feel the most sleepiness will usually be helpful. 

Everything you can do to improve the quality of your sleep will also be helpful in decreasing your hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness) and your persistent feelings of fatigue. 

Some basic things everyone can do to improve sleep quality include: 

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule—going  to bed and awakening at about the same time every day.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine-containing beverages for several hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals just before bedtime.
  • Avoid smoking, especially at night.
  • Maintain a comfortable, adequately warmed bedroom environment.
  • Engage in relaxing activities such as a warm bath before bedtime.
  • Exercise daily.

Exercising for at least 20 minutes per day at least 4 or 5 hours before bedtime improves sleep quality.  Additionally the regular exercise can help you to avoid gaining excess weight.