5 Ways I Survived College With Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
Last updated: August 2023
In December of 2022, I turned in my senior thesis and received my degree. Then, in May 2023, I walked for my college graduation. It was the moment I worked hard towards ever since I learned that college was an option for me.
High school was hard, but college was harder
I excelled at school in elementary and middle school; then, in high school, my grades and GPA were garbage. But I got accepted into around 25 colleges and had to decide where to go.
High school was hard due to being undiagnosed and from the heavy coursework that was assigned, since it was an academic high school and every class was considered advanced placement (AP). But for me, college was harder than high school in different ways. I had to deal with learning a new state, making new friends, getting diagnosed, and a global pandemic. College was hard, but I’m thankful I can finally say that "I made it" (and I also get to tell people that I have a cool bachelor’s degree in English and don’t want to be a teacher).
How I survived college with idiopathic hypersomnia
1. Seeking a diagnosis for questionable sleeping habits
I would knock out during class or be tired after a couple of tasks. Me being sleepy all the time even after a nap was something that most people shrugged off when I was younger. Even in high school, people questioned it more but didn’t push enough about it for me to go get it checked out. Later, I found out my parents didn’t question my sleepiness in high school because they thought my symptoms were me going through puberty. So, a lot of advice I give to people who are struggling with sleep is to, at the very least, consult a sleep specialist for a professional's opinion.
2. Talking to professors and school staff
One thing that was helpful about going to a smaller school for college is that a lot of professors I had for freshman year I ended up having every subsequent year. So teachers experienced me sleeping in their classes early on and learned how my brain worked as the years went on. Most people are shocked to learn that my college professors were the last push I needed to decide to go get a diagnosis! Having them as part of my diagnostic journey really helped me get through college.
For the professors who had never had me before, though, it was a different story. I got in trouble with new professors a lot, because they didn’t take the time to read my super long disability accommodations file. The file wasn’t long because I had a lot of accommodations — specifically, I only had 3 accommodations —, but because at the beginning was the typical ADA information, kind of like the syllabus jargon professors have to put before getting to the class schedule. Then, after that part, it became an ugly, red, bolded copy-paste of the first Google search of what idiopathic hypersomnia is and a snippet of how it affects me. Honestly, I think teachers only saw the first part and tapped out before scrolling through to the actual accommodation part, or they didn’t bother at all.
Having teachers not read my accommodation file led to me having to correct them in front of my peers. My worst memory is when I got locked out of class for being tardy even though I had accommodations to be tardy. Being locked out of class caused a lot of distress and ended up with me crying about the situation to my disability advisor. Thankfully, my advisor emailed my teacher, and I wasn’t locked out any subsequent times, but it was a painful situation to be in.
3. Taking naps
NAPS! I love a good nap. While naps are not necessarily refreshing for people with idiopathic hypersomnia, in my experience, pushing through makes me feel worse than if I went about my day without napping. So if I needed a nap, I went back to my dorm and napped!
4. Planning work and setting phone reminders
When I say "planning work," I say this in the loosest terms possible. Personally, making schedules, lists, and writing notes in planners don’t exactly work for me. Any worksheets that go in my book bag are eaten by a void in my brain — they just stop existing. But something the void can't affect (usually) is putting reminders in my phone.
Phone reminders saved me with remembering important dates or events. Even if my teacher didn’t allow phones, I would explain to them that I needed to use my phone really quick to make a calendar reminder. Then, as soon as I was done, I put my phone back in my purse. This way, I respected the teachers' no phone policy while still being able to use my handheld memory bank.
As for college events, I would sign up for ones I knew I could do before or after my afternoon nap. I would speak up when it came to scheduling meetings and ask if they could be after 6 PM because I knew I would more than likely be awake by then.
5. Forming a support system
Throughout college I was thankful to have had multiple support systems. My best friends that I had in high school were the ones I called up when I was having issues or wanted to talk. It grounded me and helped me not spiral mentally while on campus a lot.
I also relied on my family as well, calling them as needed and keeping them updated about how I was doing. Having people to depend on made it easier to get through college overall.
Are you someone living with excessive daytime sleepiness as part of idiopathic hypersomnia or narcolepsy? How did you manage going to school while managing your symptoms? Share with us in the comments below!
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