Published on September 22, 2022

Why am I so tired all the time?

Woman with Narcolepsy

“I can’t seem to make it through an entire day without feeling overwhelmingly tired. I feel like sleep is consuming me,” Emily*, of Waconia, explained to her doctor. Emily’s description of always being tired prompted a referral to Ridgeview’s sleep lab team in Waconia.

We all go through days―or even weeks―where we feel like we’re not getting enough sleep, but when the pattern seems endless, it may be time to seek medical care. Ridgeview's Ehtaisham Mohammed, MD, has referred a number of his patients for sleep studies. He says, “Sleep is essential to every process in the body. It affects our physical and mental functioning, our ability to fight disease and develop immunity, and supports our metabolic health.”

More than just really tired

For Emily, she attributed her constant exhaustion to being a busy college student and thought she would get the rest she needed once the semester ended. Unfortunately, her symptoms continued after extensive rest, so she scheduled an appointment with her doctor.

While meeting with her provider, Emily completed The Epworth Sleepiness Scale. This form is widely used in the field of sleep medicine to get an understanding of a patient’s level of sleepiness. It requires the patient to give a 0 (no chance of dozing) to 3 (high chance of dozing) rating during activities such as sitting and reading to sitting in your car for a few minutes in traffic. If the patient scores between 16 to 24, they are showing signs of excessive sleepiness and should consider additional testing.

After reviewing Emily’s scores and discussing her symptoms, her provider knew there was something more going on than just being really tired, so Emily was referred for a sleep study at Ridgeview’s sleep lab to confirm a diagnosis of narcolepsy. This study includes two tests, beginning with an overnight study, known as a polysomnography (PSG). This test records brain waves, blood oxygen level, heart rate, breathing, and eye and leg movements. The following day, a second test, known as a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), was performed. The MSLT measures how quickly a patient falls asleep during the day, and how quickly and often a patient enters rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These two tests are necessary to properly diagnose and treat narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy affects about 1 in 2,000 people

Signs of narcolepsy can appear at any age, but symptoms typically appear in adolescence or young adulthood. The signs and symptoms of narcolepsy are not widely known and those experiencing symptoms may receive a misdiagnosis for other neurological conditions. As a result, experts estimate half of people in the U.S. with narcolepsy are not diagnosed or are misdiagnosed.

Thankfully, with the help of Ridgeview’s sleep lab team and her primary care provider, Emily was able to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. She says, “Without Ridgeview’s incredible team, I don’t think I would have ever gotten the treatment I needed.”

Research and knowledge regarding narcolepsy are ongoing and evolving. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of narcolepsy, talk to your provider to see if scheduling an appointment with Ridgeview’s sleep lab is right for you.

*Name changed in publication as the individual wishes to remain anonymous.