Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.
It’s estimated that up to 200,000 people in the United States are living with narcolepsy. If you have narcolepsy and it’s made it difficult or impossible for you to work, you may qualify for disability benefits. For those who qualify, you’ll receive monthly payments from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and have free access to healthcare.
To help you understand whether or not you’re eligible, this guide will explain what criteria the SSA requires and how you can apply.
Skip the reading. See which benefits you qualify for in 2-minutes or less.
Is narcolepsy a disability?
Yes, the SSA considers narcolepsy as a disability, as long you’re unable to work because of it. A diagnosis from your doctor isn’t enough. You need to also prove that you meet the SSA’s medical criteria and that you can’t work.
How the SSA defines narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a condition where you suddenly fall asleep throughout the day or (at inappropriate times) or you experience overwhelming drowsiness because the brain can not regulate the normal sleep-wake cycle. While its cause is not always known, narcolepsy may be a result of family history, an auto-immune disease, or a brain injury. The SSA handles narcolepsy similar to other neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and even severe migraines.
Types of narcolepsy that can qualify
There are a few main forms of narcolepsy, all of which could possibly qualify you for Social Security disability benefits:
Type 1 narcolepsy: Characterized by low levels of hypocretin (a brain hormone) and cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle tone or even paralysis, plus excessive daytime sleepiness
Type 2 narcolepsy: Similar to Type 1 but without the cataplexy
Secondary narcolepsy: When your narcolepsy occurs as the result of a brain injury
Your narcolepsy can qualify for disability benefits if you can prove to the SSA that it prevents you from working, and you'll be unable to work for at least one year.
However, the SSA has strict eligibility requirements and you’ll need to show clear medical documentation to prove that you qualify. You can increase your odds of approval by working with a disability lawyer. They’ll know how to gather the necessary medical evidence to prove your narcolepsy. They can also fill out your application in a way that strengthens your case.
Criteria for getting disability with narcolepsy
Broadly speaking, you need to provide thorough documentation of any medical diagnosis you have received related to narcolepsy. That documentation could include specific tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, sleep studies, or other lab work. Ideally you also want to show that your condition has worsened or at least stayed the same even after months of treatment.
Some tests the SSA may consider when reviewing your narcolepsy include:
A polysomnogram, or sleep study: An overnight recording of your brain and muscle activity
A multiple sleep latency test (MSLT): A test that measures your daytime sleepiness level and how quickly you fall asleep or enter into REM sleep
Spinal tap: A test used to measure your amount of the brain hormone hypocretin-1, which low levels of can indicate narcolepsy
It’s also important to have medical records showing any symptoms and effects you experience because of your narcolepsy. For example, perhaps you have issues with your memory. Any evidence you can show of your memory problems — like notes from a doctor’s exam, results of cognitive tests, or written statements from family and friends — could strengthen your application.
Other conditions that you experience as a result of narcolepsy, like anxiety or depression, can also increase your chances of approval.
Questions to ask yourself before applying
If you answer yes to most or all of the following questions, your narcolepsy may be severe enough to qualify for disability benefits:
Do I experience disorganization of motor function and find myself unable to stand from a seated position, balance while walking or standing, or properly use my upper extremities?
Do I have difficulty communicating or interacting with others?
Do I find it hard to concentrate on a single task and maintain a steady pace?
Do I struggle to understand, remember, or apply instructions and feedback?
Do I need help managing personal tasks at home?
Do the medications and treatments I take to manage narcolepsy get in the way of my everyday activities?
Do I have medical exams, lab results, or evaluation reports from the last 90 days?
The easiest way to see if you qualify is to take our 2-minute eligibility quiz. If you do meet the qualifications, one of our team members will reach out to advise you on next steps for free. They can also connect you with a disability lawyer who will be able to guide you through applying for disability with narcolepsy. (You only ever pay the lawyer if they win your case.)
The two types of Social Security disability
Social Security disability includes two types you can apply for. Understanding which you qualify for before you go through the application process may limit some of the roadblocks people often encounter.
Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is one type and it offers the highest amount of disability benefits. It is typically available if you’ve worked and paid taxes at least five of the past 10 years, but are no longer able to work.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the other type and it is income-based. You can still qualify for SSI even if you haven’t had much income for the last 10 years.
The average Social Security disability check for someone diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder, which includes narcolepsy, is $1,377.36 per month.
Exactly how much you get depends on the type of benefits you receive and your work or income history. You can qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) if you’ve worked for at least five of the past 10 years, and the maximum possible benefit is about $3,600. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an option for you if you have little to no income, savings, or work history. SSI pays up to $914 per month in 2023.
It’s worth remembering that only about 20% of all applicants get approved through their initial application. Almost everyone needs to go through an appeals process, which involves a hearing before a judge. But for people who go through the hearing stage — which can take almost two years to get to — there’s a 50% chance of approval. And for applicants who have a lawyer, the chances of approval are three times higher.
At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.
There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.
Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)