Silhouette of a head surrounded by clouds with knitting needles and yarn

Strategies For Managing Automatic Behaviors

Last updated: January 2023

As a person with severe type 1 narcolepsy, the question isn’t whether I will experience automatic behaviors or not – the question is when I will experience automatic behaviors. If you’re new to this community, you might be asking: what exactly are automatic behaviors?

Automatic behaviors are a variety of behaviors that occur in a person with narcolepsy when they become so tired that they are awake and asleep at the same time. In this dreamlike state, people appear conscious because they keep working. However, this is far from the truth.

What do automatic behaviors look like?

Some examples of automatic behaviors include:

Automatic behaviors can be really inhibiting. They can affect workplace performance, education, and more. Treating my narcolepsy with medication has improved my symptoms, but I still frequently experience automatic behaviors — so I have had to learn how to live with these symptoms.

How I combat automatic behaviors

Some strategies that I use to combat automatic behaviors include:

Get important work done earlier in the day

I save my most awake hours in the day for work that requires focus and thinking. By doing so, I ensure that when I have automatic behaviors, particularly later in the day, I will not be doing much important work while it’s happening. Which leads me to my second suggestion...

Find safe hobbies that you can do during automatic episodes

Automatic episodes are a part of life with narcolepsy. They’re going to happen. I like to have activities nearby that I can do during my automatic episodes. For example, I recently started crocheting again. This is a safe activity, with a blunt hook and yarn, that I can do while in an automatic episode.

Now, when I feel myself getting sleepy, I pick up my crochet project and make good progress even when the automatic behavior sets in. However, there is another option for when you notice automatic behavior, and that is...

Take a nap

Automatic behaviors occur when our brain cannot keep us either awake or fully asleep. Sometimes when I notice automatic behaviors occurring, I will take a nap to reset my brain. Like a piece of technology being turned off and then back on again, usually a nap is a good enough fix for mild automatic behaviors. At the very least, it delays the onset for me! And I get a nap out of it!

Use automatic behaviors to boost creativity

One way that I like to cope with my automatic behaviors is through making art while I am in an episode. Although the art does not turn out as clean as it would be if I had done it while awake, it has the extra-special touch of a dreamlike quality. Some of my best paintings have been completed while in an automatic behavior state.

How do you live with your automatic behaviors? Do any of these techniques resonate with you?

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