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Reading With Narcolepsy

I love everything about books. Always have. From the crisp smell of their pages, to the buttery-soft feel of their words beneath my fingers, to the worlds they allow me to enter with just a crack of the spine…

But when my narcolepsy symptoms started, suddenly I was falling asleep every five minutes. Sleeping so suddenly made it impossible for me to do anything, including driving without endangering myself and others, cooking without burning every batch or myself, and reading books of course.

How could I absorb material from a page when I couldn’t keep my eyes open to read it?

Fearing I was done being an avid reader

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for years. When my narcolepsy symptoms started in college, I thought I was done being the avid reader I had always been. I mourned my ability to spend hours with my nose buried in a good book, lost to worlds entirely unbeknownst to me.

The more years I live with narcolepsy, though, the more I learn how to live around my symptoms. Although I can’t lose myself indefinitely in books like I used to, I have found ways to get access to reading again by using certain techniques.

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What helps me with reading now


Audiobooks are helpful to listen to, especially while I am cleaning or driving. Having something to do to keep me awake while listening to audiobooks is essential to reading with narcolepsy!

Morning readings

Finding a time that I am most awake during the day is also an important technique for reading with narcolepsy. In my case, I am most awake after my daytime medications have kicked in for the morning. Sometimes a cup of morning coffee can help jumpstart me awake as well. Once the grogginess of the night has passed, I am my most awake. This is when I schedule allotment times for reading.

By reading when I am most awake, I increase the amount of time I am able to read before I start having sleep attacks. Once I start falling asleep, I take my scheduled mid-morning nap. I don’t try to fight the sleep attack, because it just ends up with me reading automatically but not absorbing anything.

Short spurts

As I mentioned earlier, sleep attacks are inevitable while trying to read with narcolepsy. And if I keep reading through a sleep attack, I won’t absorb anything at all! So as soon as the sleepiness starts, I simply close the book and move on. This means that I have to read in short spurts, maybe five minutes to twenty minutes at a time.

And it can be helpful to switch between books once I start getting sleepy. Switching to a new book makes the content seem more fresh, which makes it easier to read. However, there is no fixing a sleep attack. Only a dedicated nap can make a sleep attack go away!

Picture books

It may sound strange for a grown adult to be reading picture books. But I enjoyed them as a kid, and I still do. Picture books are designed to keep kids attentive. The pictures help me to focus on colors and shapes rather than just words. This makes it easier to get through.

It doesn’t just have to be kids books either! I’ve found myself getting into graphic novels and comics as a person with narcolepsy. It just makes it easier to focus when I have various colors to look at, and visual depictions of scenes.

Be kind

Finally, I have to choose to be kind to myself. If I punish myself internally every time I read, just because I am not able to read as much as I used to, it makes me not want to read! So when I fall asleep while reading, instead of being mean to myself, I choose to be tender. This makes all the difference. It’s not my fault that I have narcolepsy. Therefore, it is pointless to punish myself over it.

Do you have any tips on reading with narcolepsy? Do you think you’ll try any of these?

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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