a woman's ear next to three caution signs

Listen to the Signs

There are a few aspects of living with narcolepsy that the general public may not be aware of. I’m sure I have mentioned before about the misconceptions about living with narcolepsy.

Such things include having undisrupted sleep and taking naps out of luxury. Today, I wanted to share my experiences with microsleeps and sleep attacks.

What is microsleep?

The Cleveland Clinic describes microsleep as very brief periods of sleep that last up to 30 seconds, and people may not notice they are happening.1

My microsleeps can vary from zoning out during conversations to nodding off while sitting still for too long. This can be dangerous if I’m in a situation that does not allow me to lie down and rest immediately, like driving in heavy traffic. Most often, though, my microsleeps cause me to seem distracted or aloof. Thankfully, those close to me understand when I ask them to repeat themselves multiple times.

Sleep attacks and my 3 warning signs

Another aspect of living with narcolepsy that is often misconstrued is sleep attacks. No, it isn’t always like what you see in movies where someone falls asleep with their face splatting on their food. For me, my sleep attacks are subtle.

Here are the first 3 warning signs my body gives me:

1. Inability to carry on conversation

I could feel fully energized and engaged in a conversation, then suddenly have no desire to speak. Opening my mouth and moving my lips feels like running a marathon. Those who are close to me know when I suddenly go mute, it is getting close to nap time.

2. My limbs feel heavy

While driving for about an hour, my boyfriend commented, “I always know when it’s time for me to drive. You hold the wheel with one hand, and the other lays face up on your lap.” When my brain starts to turn off, my limbs feel like noodles. It takes so much effort to move or even sit up straight.

3. My eyes lose focus

This is the final warning my body gives me that I have less than 5 minutes before I need to find a place to curl up. If I ignore the first 2 warnings and try to press on, my eyes begin to close against my will. I often feel tension in my eyebrows as I struggle to open my eyes.

Listening to the signs from my body

I have learned to follow these warning signs closely. This may mean I need to pull over and close my eyes for a few minutes. There have been times that I’ve had to find a place to curl up for a few minutes. One time I had to curl up in a dressing room while bridesmaids dress shopping, but that’s another story for another day.

One thing I know for sure, nothing is more important than listening to my body. It knows best, and there is no point denying what it needs.

Do you experience sleep attacks? What signs does your body give you that a sleep attack is coming? Share with us in the comments below.

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