Narcolepsy is defined as excessive daytime drowsiness in addition to the desire to sleep at inappropriate times. People with narcolepsy often fall asleep during stressful situations and are not refreshed with any amount of sleep.

What are the symptoms of Narcolepsy?

There are four main symptoms of Narcolepsy. They include:

  1. Excessive daytime sleepiness: Sleepiness during the day is often the first noticeable symptom of Narcolepsy. Those who suffer from it are often tired and may fall asleep during odd times, such as while driving.
  2. Cataplexy: Cataplexy is the sudden and brief loss of muscle control. The person is fully awake and aware of what is happening. The attacks of cataplexy often occur in conjunction with the experience of strong emotions, such as anger or laughter.
  3. Sleep paralysis: Sleep paralysis involves the loss of muscle control when a person is waking up or falling asleep. The person may be aware of what is occurring but unable to move or speak. Sometimes it will disappear if the person is touched by someone else.
  4. Hypnagogic hallucinations: These are dreamlike experiences that occur when a person is awake. They may involve disturbing or frightening images or sounds.

Additional symptoms of Narcolepsy

  • Automatic Behaviors: These usually consist of routine tasks that the person performs and may not be consciously controlled. The person may fall asleep and continue to perform the task and not remember it upon awakening.
  • Disturbed nighttime sleep: Those who suffer from Narcolepsy may have difficulty in staying asleep throughout the night.
  • Double vision
  • Inability to concentrate

The symptoms of Narcolepsy can develop gradually over time or appear suddenly.

What causes it?

The main cause of Narcolepsy is unknown. It appears to be related to problems in a specific area of the central nervous system that controls sleep and wakefulness. It is not caused by psychiatric or psychological problems. Recent discoveries show that Narcolepsy is caused by a deficiency in a neurotransmitter in the brain called hypocretin or orexin. This apparently is caused by a genetic defect. This knowledge may lead to specific treatments in the future.

How is it treated?

Narcolepsy can be treated in several ways. Medication will sometimes be used to control excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, and hallucinations. Other behavioral treatments such as taking short naps and following strict sleep hygiene can sometimes help in alleviating some of the problems associated with Narcolepsy.