Those of us who live with narcolepsy rarely feel completely awake. I live somewhere on a spectrum from “almost completely awake” to “can’t keep my eyes open.” I know that on days when I need to drive, I take my trio of chemicals – A large mug of black tea for the caffeine, I stick on a nicotine patch, and take an extended-release Adderall or Ritalin – and that combination keeps me awake and alert enough to drive. Usually the meds last for 6-8 hours depending on if I take the Adderall or the Ritalin. Adderall lasts longer and is a bit stronger, so I use that on days when I really have to be awake for a long time, and I don’t want to experience the effects of the Ritalin wearing off. But is there any way to be sure that I’m really as awake and alert as I think I am?
Thanks to the people at Harvard, there is. They have posted a simulated driving test where obstacles in the road flash up on the screen in front of the car, and when they do, you need to hit the space bar as quickly as you can. The test lasts for 5 minutes, and that is a long time to pay attention! I took it one evening when I was feeling toward the awake end of my spectrum, and well, my results weren’t all that great. I was in the yellow zone, which meant that while I wasn’t clearly impaired, I wasn’t as quick to respond as they would like people to be.
This might even be a good tool for explaining to family members and friends the level of sleepiness we live with as persons with narcolepsy. Compare results with the people around you in case they really don’t believe that you can be that sleepy all the time.