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.
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.