Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is characterized by having an excessive urge to sleep during inappropriate times of the day. Narcolepsy affects the part of the brain that controls wakefulness and sleep. People with narcolepsy often experience disturbed nocturnal sleep and an abnormal daytime sleep pattern, which often is confused with insomnia.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness – daytime sleepiness is present in all narcoleptics and is typically the first symptom. People with narcolepsy may feel sleepy during unusual times which can also be dangerous.

Cataplexy – Sudden, brief losses of muscle strength. This often occurs months or years after the onset of narcolepsy. Cataplexy is typically triggered by strong emotion, such as laughter or anger and can result in weakness of the knees or a complete collapse resulting in a fall.

Sleep Paralysis – Sleep paralysis is a brief loss of muscle strength that occurs when you are falling asleep or waking up. You may be aware of your surroundings but unable to move or speak. The muscles that help you breath are not affected during this paralysis.

Hypnagogic Hallucinations – Vivid dreams that occur when a person is drowsy. These hallucinations may be frightening since the person is partially awake but has no control over the events.

How is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?

The first step is to make an appointment with your primary care physician to make sure there is not an underlying medical illness causing your symptoms. A visit to a sleep disorder specialist will follow and a Sleep Study or MSLT may be ordered as part of the diagnostic workup.

Narcolepsy Treatment

Over the counter medications are typically not effective in treating narcolepsy. Stimulant medications and wakefulness promoting agents can help control the sleepiness and suppress the cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnogogic hallucinations. You will need to work with your healthcare provider to find the best treatment approach with unwanted side effects. Proper sleep hygiene is also important in treating narcolepsy. Having a consistent sleep schedule with regular short naps may be helpful. It is also important that you follow your healthcare professionals instructions regarding your medications and inform your employer about your disorder in order to avoid any situations that could be dangerous while on the job.