Man driving but has fallen asleep due to narcolepsy. Car is in space with planets the color of a traffic light.

Automatic Behaviors Are Disabling When You Have Narcolepsy

Last updated: June 2022

My eyes trace the lines of a book

One word at a time

I swallow each letter and digest

The contents within

But my gaze starts to shake

The world begins to quake

Before I know it, I’m three pages away

From the last word I read

What are automatic behaviors?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you experience automatic behaviors from your narcolepsy?

Automatic behaviors are actions that a seemingly awake person takes when they are not truly awake. Instead, they are somewhere between awake and asleep and might continue the action for a few seconds, a few minutes, or even a few hours without being aware of what they are doing. People most often experience automatic behavior during habitual activities like typing or driving, and usually they cannot recall their actions upon waking again. 1

People without narcolepsy are capable of exhibiting automatic behaviors when they are exceptionally sleep-deprived. One example of this phenomenon is when overly tired drivers fall asleep behind the wheel and wake up at their destination or at a red light.

Unfortunately for those of us with narcolepsy, automatic behaviors are an undeniable part of our lives.

I started experiencing automatic behavior in college

When my narcolepsy onset occurred in college, I first noticed my automatic behaviors when I was driving. I would “come to” at a red light and my stomach would sink thinking about what could have happened during that amount of time that I was driving without being fully awake. Then, suddenly, I was experiencing these automatic behaviors during class, work, research, traveling, reading, drawing, and more.

Despite being diagnosed with narcolepsy and being heavily medicated with stimulants, I found myself unable to participate in class adequately due to my automatic behaviors. I always took copious amounts of notes, but when I would get tired in class my notes eventually turned into squiggles and gibberish.

When I would “come to” in class and see that I missed a portion of the lecture due to my automatic behaviors, I hated myself and my condition.

I have learned to acknowledge my limits and needs

I’ve come a long way since then. I am learning to love myself and accept my new illness.

I will say that these automatic behaviors are still uncomfortable to experience. However, I have gotten to know my personal limits better.

Now that I am not in school anymore, I have a lot less stress surrounding my condition. I also have learned how to acknowledge my limits and fulfill my needs when it comes to my narcolepsy symptoms. I also have a much better treatment plan.

I am a worthy person, even when I experience automatic behaviors

If I start experiencing automatic behaviors now, I let myself lay down and take a nap. Even if I’m in public, I’ll close my eyes and feel my eyelids moving from the REM sleep I’m in. This can serve as a type of power nap that helps me gain a little bit of energy.

Most importantly, I know now that I am a worthy person – even when I experience automatic behaviors.

Do you find that automatic behaviors affect your daily life? Share with us in the comments below.

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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 Narcolepsy.Sleep-Disorders.net 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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