Health Conditions That Mimic Narcolepsy

You can have a condition that looks like narcolepsy but isn’t narcolepsy. That’s because these conditions share many of the same signs and symptoms. In essence, the conditions mimic your narcolepsy. We call these conditions narcolepsy mimickers. It’s also possible for one of the comorbid conditions to present as a mimicker. A condition mimickers can delay your diagnosis. To get an accurate diagnosis, your healthcare provider rules one or more of these conditions.

Mental Health Conditions

Certain mental health conditions share symptoms of insomnia, sleep problems, and even hallucinations. We talked about the common mental health conditions that can appear with your narcolepsy. These conditions can also present without narcolepsy and mimic your narcolepsy.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is another condition that mimics narcolepsy in young children. It’s the most common behavioral disorder that affects children in school and socially. When you think of ADHD, you probably think only of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. Those indeed are some of the hallmark signs of ADHD. But they aren’t the only signs. 

  • Daytime sleepiness.
  • Fidgeting.
  • Concentration problems (short attention span, forgetfulness, and trouble focusing)
  • Mood changes, like excitement or boredom

Daytime sleepiness and memory problems overlap with both ADHD and narcolepsy. But the connection doesn’t end there. Healthcare providers often use similar medications to manage both conditions. That’s right, stimulants and medicine for muscle loss work for ADHD!

Health Conditions

Different medical conditions can cause sleepiness in some people. These are a few health conditions that also mimic narcolepsy.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a respiratory condition where inflammation in the airways and lungs makes breathing hard. We discussed COPD, its symptoms, and ways to manage and treat this condition here

You know that COPD causes breathing problems. But did you know that it can also cause sleep problems? And that it’s a condition that mimics narcolepsy? It’s true; people with COPD are more likely to have sleep-related problems like insomnia, sleep disturbances, and in some cases, narcolepsy. This more than likely happens because of the irreversible airway damage and obstruction caused by COPD.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) doesn’t often occur with narcolepsy, though it is possible. But it is another condition that mimics narcolepsy and contributes to a late or misdiagnosis. MS results from the same protein deficiency that causes narcolepsy. MS also causes several signs and symptoms, and some of them look like your narcolepsy. However, unlike narcolepsy, MS happens when there is inflammation or lesions that damage the central nervous system. When this happens, the body attacks the cells that control different bodily functions. The inflammation and lesions occur in response to genetic factors and environmental exposures, like a vitamin D deficiency, certain infections, and even smoking.  MS causes several signs and symptoms, and some of them look like your narcolepsy.

  • Sleep disorders.
  • Insomnia.
  • Sleep-related movement disorders.
  • Abnormal sleep behaviors. 
  • Vision loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Pain.
  • Poor coordination.

There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis. But, therapies targeting the body’s immune responses are the first options for treating the symptoms. Those, however, aren’t the only option. Steroids, inflammatory reducing, and immune response modifying medications also treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis.


Your immune system protects your body from foreign substances. With lupus, your immune system doesn’t attack foreign substances. Instead, it attacks your organs and tissues. Lupus also causes inflammation in your body and blood cells and affects your blood vessels.

  • Fatigue.
  • Joint pain.
  • Rash.
  • Fever.

We don’t know what causes lupus. But we know that many genetic and environmental factors contribute. We also know that having one autoimmune condition increases your likelihood of having multiple conditions. This means that lupus can also be a narcolepsy mimicker. You can’t get rid of lupus. But you can prevent symptom flare-ups with steroids and drugs that regulate the immune system.

Neurological Conditions

Did you know that certain neurological conditions cause sleepiness, sleep disturbances, and sleep behaviors in people? It’s true! These are some of the conditions that mimic your narcolepsy.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is another one of the conditions that mimic narcolepsy. It happens when there’s a loss of dopamine in the brain. We feel pleasure because of dopamine. But that’s not all that it does. Dopamine is also involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles and our movements. The loss of dopamine causes motor movement and non-motor symptoms, and some of these symptoms mimic narcolepsy.

  • Sleep disorders
  • Tremors at rest
  • Changes in cognition
  • Muscle tension or stiffness
  • Depression

Gene mutations, oxidative stress, and exposure to different toxins are known risk factors for Parkinson’s. You know that Parkinson’s happens when there’s a loss of dopamine. So, treatment often involves medications that replace dopamine in the brain. Other meds work as well.


Epilepsy is another condition that mimics your narcolepsy. It happens because of abnormal brain activity. Head injuries, certain infections, tumors, and genetic factors such as gene mutations are triggers. Epilepsy is an umbrella term to describe syndromes that cause seizures and these motor and sleep problems.

  • Body jerking
  • Twitching
  • Body limpness
  • Fatigue
  • Brief muscle loss or paralysis, sometimes caused by intense or positive feelings.
  • Drowsiness

Epilepsy is a lot like narcolepsy because both are unpredictable conditions. And both affect one’s quality of life. You also can’t cure or get rid of epilepsy. But you can manage it. Antiepileptic meds are the standard when it comes to treating epilepsy.