Narcolepsy may result in symptoms that can negatively affect a person’s ability to work. Therefore, some people living with narcolepsy may qualify for disability benefits.

Narcolepsy is a long-term neurological condition that can cause a person to fall asleep suddenly at inappropriate times. There are two main types of narcolepsy, and the condition can involve additional symptoms beyond sleeping, such as issues with muscle control.

Evidence suggests that approximately 1 in 2,000 people in the United States lives with narcolepsy. Since this condition may affect a person’s ability to work, some individuals may be eligible for disability benefits.

In this article, we will discuss whether narcolepsy is a disability and how people living with the condition can access benefits.

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According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990, narcolepsy can meet the criteria for a disability in certain circumstances. Depending on the severity of the condition, a person living with narcolepsy may qualify for disability benefits.

At present, narcolepsy does not feature on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) list of qualified disorders. However, symptoms such as extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden loss of muscle control (cataplexy) can make it difficult to work. Since this can limit a person’s ability to work, they may be able to get Social Security disability benefits.

If a person is able to meet certain criteria and prove that narcolepsy prevents them from reasonably performing certain job functions, they may be eligible. This can include requiring frequent naps, having at least one episode of narcolepsy per week, and still having symptoms despite taking medication to treat the condition.

At present, the SSA does not list narcolepsy as a potentially disabling condition in its Blue Book manual. Therefore, to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefit, a person with narcolepsy must present evidence that the condition impairs their ability to work.

When applying for benefits, they must include medical records that show:

  • a formal diagnosis of narcolepsy by a medical professional
  • the frequency and duration of symptoms
  • the persistence of symptoms, even when following medical treatment
  • the inability to perform certain functions due to symptoms

Though the SSA does not list narcolepsy in its Blue Book manual, a person may instead qualify for benefits under a medical vocational allowance. This is an additional way in which a person can convey to the SSA that they are unable to work as a result of their condition.

It is advisable for a person to apply for disability benefits as soon as possible. It can take 3–6 months for the SSA to process a claim. If the organization determines that a disability prevents a person from working, the person may be eligible for benefits.

However, the SSA may deny a claim. A person can attempt to appeal this. If unsuccessful, they may consider hiring a disability lawyer to help their case.

A person can work with their doctor to collect all necessary medical information. This may include:

  • a diagnosis and when symptoms started
  • the tests to confirm the diagnosis
  • a list of symptoms
  • a list of medications
  • a letter from a doctor stating how narcolepsy symptoms affect the person’s ability to work

The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination. As such, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including narcolepsy.

Adults can often negotiate with employers to make their work schedules more accommodating. This could include allowing time for naps and performing the most demanding tasks when most alert. Similarly, children and adolescents may be able to request similar accommodations at school.

Tips that may help with managing narcolepsy at work could include:

  • talking with an employer about fitting in 15- to 20-minute naps during work
  • focusing on less exciting tasks when most alert
  • working with a doctor to optimize medication timing and doses
  • getting sufficient sleep at night
  • staying active at work, keeping the office cool, and taking regular breaks to walk around

The SSA does not recognize narcolepsy as a condition that automatically qualifies for disability benefits. As such, a person must provide a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment.

This is a form that a physician completes in order to evaluate a person’s ability to work. The SSA use this term to indicate a person’s physical and mental capacities to perform tasks when living with a medical condition.

An RFC will include a person’s medical history and how symptoms of narcolepsy may prevent them from performing certain job functions.

For example, a common treatment for daytime drowsiness is frequent and regularly scheduled naps. As this could result in a decrease in productivity at work, it may qualify as a disability. Similarly, cataplexy could limit a person’s ability to perform physically demanding jobs.

Additionally, an RFC will include any medication a person is currently taking. A doctor will list the potential side effects of these drugs, which could include difficulty concentrating and completing tasks.

An individual can apply for Social Security Disability in the following ways:

  • applying online through the SSA website
  • calling 800-772-1213 (people who are deaf or hard of hearing may instead call 800-325-0778)
  • applying in-person at a Social Security office

Narcolepsy can cause symptoms that may make it difficult to work. Even though the SSA does not recognize narcolepsy as a potentially disabling condition, a person may still qualify for disability benefits if symptoms interfere with their ability to work.

A person may wish to discuss their eligibility with a healthcare professional. A doctor can help gather all the necessary medical information for a person to submit an application.