Managing Narcolepsy at School

Narcolepsy often begins during childhood and teens year, so it’s important to find ways to manage symptoms in the learning environment. Students with narcolepsy can learn and perform well in school with the right support.

Girl at school

The symptoms of narcolepsy can, at first, be difficult to distinguish from other issues like sleep deprivation—especially in teens. Behaviors like falling asleep in class, poor grades, or not being able to complete homework or other assignments can be early clues. If narcolepsy is diagnosed, it’s an opportunity for the student, parents, and teachers to meet and discuss how to support the student in school. Educate teachers about narcolepsy, describing it as a sleep disorder that has a chemical cause in the brain and is not a result of bad sleep habits, lack of motivation, or the need for more sleep.

It may be helpful to make arrangements with the school nurse to understand the child’s medications and accommodate the need for short, scheduled naps during school hours. A letter from the child’s doctor to the school nurse may be needed.

Kids can develop self-awareness about what helps them feel best, for example taking a nap in the nurse’s office, getting up and walking around the classroom, exercising, sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair, chewing gum, sitting near the window or at the front of the class—all these habits can help, with the support of the teacher.