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The Curious Link Between Narcolepsy and ADHD

I’ve realised that since I was diagnosed with narcolepsy, I’ve learned so much about myself, and I continue to do so the more time goes by.

For a while, I believed that narcolepsy was the cause of all the issues I had been dealing with all my life, but it’s taken a fair bit of introspective work to discover that might not be entirely true. What if my lack of concentration and ability to focus isn’t only due to the complications caused by lack of sleep? What if, all along, I’ve actually been experiencing symptoms of ADHD?

ADHD: an 'important comorbidity of narcolepsy'

This line of thought began when I discovered that many people with narcolepsy and ADHD are prescribed the exact same type of medication: stimulants.1

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I have always been extremely curious about why one medication can be used for such different symptoms. So, I started researching and trying to find out if there is a link between narcolepsy and ADHD.

I was actually quite surprised to discover that a recent review of research has shown a prevalence of 33 percent of ADHD symptoms in people with narcolepsy, "making it an important comorbidity of narcolepsy."2

I didn't think I fit in the ADHD 'box'

This is when I began questioning a lot of different things. You see, I hadn’t ever considered the possibility of having ADHD. I think this is due to the fact that, in my opinion, society portrays people with ADHD in a certain way, and I didn’t think that I fit that "box."

The way I used to see it was that I wasn’t hyperactive or impulsive, and I could sit still for a long time if I needed to. Basically, I wasn’t displaying the "stereotypical" signs of someone with ADHD.3

And that’s when I realised that that’s exactly where I was (unwittingly) going wrong — I was stereotyping.

Impulsivity and memory issues

I realised that, although I’m not hyperactive, I do experience impulsivity, lack of focus, poor memory, and distraction... just not in an obvious way.

My impulsivity is more evident when you look at how I make decisions. When I try to sit down and work on something, I find it very hard to focus, so I become easily distracted. I either take an excessively long time to finish things or I don’t finish them at all. I can talk about a subject for half an hour and, 2 hours later, I cannot remember even having the conversation.

I used to believe that all of this was due to my narcolepsy, because it’s only natural for your brain to suffer when it never rests long enough to restore necessary functions.

A deeper understanding of narcolepsy?

Of course, I haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD, so all of this is just speculation. However, I wonder how many of us live our lives with undiagnosed ADHD because we mistakenly attribute certain symptoms to narcolepsy.

I truly hope that more research is done to understand the undeniable link between narcolepsy and ADHD, because I feel that maybe this could offer us an even deeper understanding of how narcolepsy works.

I would love to know about other people’s experiences with ADHD and narcolepsy, so please share your story in the comments if you can!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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