Working can be hard enough some days without having to deal with the sleepiness that can come with narcolepsy, like excessive daytime sleepiness or microsleeps. Repetitive or monotonous tasks that are common in many jobs also may increase the frequency of “sleep attacks.” Additionally, cataplexy — when your muscles suddenly go weak after experiencing a strong emotion — can make certain tasks difficult or dangerous. Just waking up on time for work can be challenging when you’re living with a serious sleep disorder.
“It’s waking up that is impossible for me and constantly threatened my employment before I started living with my parents and working from home,” a MyNarcolepsyTeam member shared.
Taken together, symptoms of narcolepsy can make it hard to find or keep jobs — or to just get through the workday — which can hurt both your financial health and mental health. Nonetheless, having narcolepsy shouldn’t keep you from working a job you’d enjoy that also supports you or your family members. Finding the best job for you may mean finding something that keeps your mind or body active and asking for understanding and flexibility from your employer.
Learn more about the best jobs for people living with narcolepsy as well as tips for making a job work for you.
Working as a server, barista, bartender, or another type of service industry job may be well-suited for someone with narcolepsy because these jobs are active, fast-paced, and usually not monotonous. Being on your feet and interacting with people constantly coming and going will require you to be alert and prepared to help customers navigate menus, make food and drink choices, and so on. This level of awareness may be what you need or want in a job.
In addition, working in the service industry often means working nontraditional hours (not 9 to 5), which may be better suited to your schedule. For example, working the dinner shift at a restaurant can allow you to have plenty of time to sleep and nap during the first part of the day.
The constantly changing atmosphere and customers of a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar will ensure that no two days are the same.
While being a receptionist usually means sitting at a desk, it can still keep your mind active. Receptionist duties look different at each workplace, but generally speaking, tasks such as frequently picking up the phone and talking to customers or colleagues about the organization or office needs can keep you feeling alert.
Similarly, being a help desk specialist can mean a busy phone line (or in-person line) that requires you to be ready to answer questions and lead customers through solutions. Having to problem solve can keep your mind active and challenged as the hours go by.
If you like helping people and are comfortable interfacing with new people, a receptionist or help desk specialist may be a good fit for you. These jobs may also be able to be done remotely, such as from your home, which may make it easier to accommodate your sleep schedule.
If you enjoy interacting with kids or young people, teaching may be an enticing job for you. Whether it be giving a lesson, answering questions, or leading a class through an activity, teaching requires you to be able to adapt and pivot based on what the class needs. In other words, it generally doesn’t involve repetitive, monotonous tasks. In addition, teaching often means being on your feet, which may be a key to ensuring you stay alert during the workday.
While teaching can keep you on your toes literally and figuratively, it may not allow for as flexible a schedule since the hours follow the school day. Nonetheless, even with fixed school hours, you may still be able to work with your employer to make time for breaks during the day.
Whether it be a clothing store or grocery store, working in the retail industry usually means you’re on your feet and interacting with customers. If you have a sales background or enjoy recommending products to people, this may be a fitting job.
Working at a store may also give you more opportunities for movement without having to take a movement break. For example, activities like stocking shelves, bagging groceries, or walking throughout the store to help customers all require you to be active. Plus, your brain will be active as interacting with customers is a cornerstone of retail work.
One of the key benefits of self-employment is that you can make your own schedule based on your preferences and sleep patterns. It also means you can likely work from home, which allows for more flexibility. Self-employment opportunities may be of interest if you enjoy working alone and can offer a service or skill in a freelance or consulting fashion, such as programming, writing, or graphic design.
While the benefits of being able to work your own schedule are enticing, self-employment may not be financially feasible or appealing for everyone.
Sleep attacks are common among people with narcolepsy, and making sure you can take a nap when you need it is a reasonable concern when looking for a job. You’re not required to tell a potential employer about narcolepsy, but it may help you in the long run if your employer knows that any drowsiness is because of a sleep disorder. Letting your employer know that you have narcolepsy and how it may impact your work opens a conversation in which you can talk about how they can make the working environment more suitable for you.
For example, your employer can offer accommodations to help you manage narcolepsy at work, such as:
In addition to making adjustments to your schedule or environment, make sure to talk with your health care provider about the dosing and timing of your medication, such as stimulants, to optimize your alertness at work. They may also have tips on how to navigate looking for jobs while living with narcolepsy.
If it seems daunting to find the perfect job for you, you’re not alone— MyNarcolepsyTeam members know what it’s like to make a job and narcolepsy work together. When looking for the best job for you, be prepared to ask for what you need. “I worked full-time at home due to COVID-19 the first two years after I was diagnosed, so I was able to take naps when needed. I’m transitioning back into the office at least part-time. I spoke with HR and my manager about my need for naps during the day,” a MyNarcolepsyTeam member shared.
Here’s what other MyNarcolepsyTeam members have to share about navigating the challenges of working with narcolepsy:
Even with a job, you may still find that a full-time work schedule is not feasible. If you’re worried about making financial ends meet, consider looking into disability benefits. Although the U.S. Social Security Administration does not recognize narcolepsy as a medical condition that would automatically qualify you for disability benefits, you may still be eligible with certain medical evidence and other documentation of how narcolepsy affects your ability to work.
Talk with your health care provider or neurologist about cataloging your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of narcolepsy to help your case should you apply. In addition, consider talking with a social worker to connect you to employment resources in your community, including resources specific to people working with a chronic condition like narcolepsy.
MyNarcolepsyTeam is the social network for people with narcolepsy and their loved ones. On MyNarcolepsyTeam, more than 10,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with narcolepsy.
Are you living with narcolepsy and looking for a job? Have you found a job that works well for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.