Sleep Apnea vs Narcolepsy

Breathing and Sleep Center of Colorado Springs

A great many people in this country are bothered by persistent tossing and turning at night, and just can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep. There are several sleep disorders that could be causing this, for instance narcolepsy or sleep apnea, but in order to treat your sleep issues, you’ll need to have them diagnosed, so the actual cause can be treated.

Sleep disordered breathing can cause a person to wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for air, or it can cause you to get very little sleep at night, so that you’re constantly dozing off during the daytime. Here are some of the main differences between sleep apnea and narcolepsy, so you can have a good idea of which one might be troubling you.

Sleep apnea 

If you frequently snore loudly when you sleep, or you wake up feeling unrested and still fatigued, you might have sleep apnea. Another sign of sleep apnea is when you are forced awake at night, just to get enough oxygen to breathe. This happens because your airway may be obstructed and you’re not getting the oxygen your body needs.

There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common one is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and this is the one where you might find yourself in need of more oxygen. Sleep apnea is characterized by gasping for air during sleep, morning headaches, persistent insomnia, heavy snoring, and periods where you actually stop breathing while sleeping. If you experience any combination of these symptoms, it will be worth your while to get checked out for having sleep apnea.


Someone bothered by narcolepsy does not have their breathing affected, but it’s the sleep cycle itself which gets disrupted. The normal sleep cycle calls for a person to begin sleeping in a relatively light phase of sleep, then progress to deeper and deeper phases, until REM sleep is achieved. A person with narcolepsy goes to REM sleep immediately after dozing off, which disrupts the entire sleep cycle for the night. Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, and a lack of energy.

You might also experience cataplexy, which is a state where you have loss of control over bodily muscles. In some cases, narcolepsy patients will undergo hallucinations which can be extremely vivid, and which can occur at any time of the day. It’s also possible to be bothered by sleep paralysis, which triggers a loss of ability to speak or move, and which can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. As you might expect, symptoms such as these can be dangerous to yourself, as well as those in your immediate circle. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate treatment.
If you are experiencing trouble sleeping, wake up gasping for air, struggle with headaches, snoring or daytime drowsiness, you may be struggling with a sleep disorder.  To learn more, contact the Breathing and Sleep Center of Colorado Springs.