Narcolepsy and Being at Risk of Sexual Assault

Content note: The following article mentions sexual assault. If you or a loved one are struggling, consider calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. You can also view our mental health resources page.

Living with a sleep disorder like narcolepsy comes along with a variety of complications. Some can be simple, like a person may be unable to stay awake to watch a full-length movie in one sitting. Other complications can be more sinister, like struggling to stay safe from sexual violence.

People with narcolepsy can be vulnerable

Living with symptoms of narcolepsy may increase our risk of sexual violence. Even the prescription medicines used to treat narcolepsy can play a role. For example, the medication sodium oxybate, which can be used to treat cataplexy and daytime sleepiness with narcolepsy, is also known as gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). It begins to work quickly and can render a person unconscious, which can put them at higher risk of physical harm depending on their surroundings or the intentions of the people around them. Because of its potential for misuse, the US Food and Drug Administration tightly controls GHB's use, and it comes with serious warnings.1,2

People with narcolepsy don't get to choose where they sleep. Most often, sleep is forced upon us, whether we are in public, at home, or in someone else’s house. This can potentially leave us vulnerable.

Sleep inertia describes an impaired state upon first waking. This can result in confusion, slow or confused decision-making, and disorientation. All of these factors may impair a person's ability to fight off sexual assault.3

As a person with narcolepsy, sleep inertia can stick around for longer than normal, and I can experience it at any point throughout the day due to narcolepsy’s neurological prohibition of the regulation of sleep and wake cycles. This state of confusion can leave those of us with narcolepsy vulnerable.

Being proactive

Ultimately, sexual assault is always the perpetrators’ fault, never the victims’. However, there are some ways we can prepare for these kinds of possibilities. First, have a plan! When entering a new environment, ask yourself: Does anyone else know I am here? If not, it might be smart to text a friend about your whereabouts. This way someone will know to check up on you. If they don’t hear back, they’ll know something might have gone wrong, as well as where to find you.

Second, make a mental note of any possible escape routes. Always know where your phone, wallet, and keys are at any given time, in case a quick escape is necessary.

Some may also carry items such as mace or a handheld taser (legal restrictions on these items can vary from region to region, and these regulations should always be checked before legally obtaining something). I always keep a "force multiplier," as I call it, close when I go out in public or to a new person's house.

Sexual violence can happen to anyone

Sexual violence can happen to anyone. It has happened to me. It has happened to my friends. If it has happened to you, please know there is help out there for you and that you are never alone.

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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