Sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, present daily challenges and frustrations. Individuals may struggle with activities that others take for granted, such as working, driving, and watching television. Even spending time with family and friends can be difficult when it is a constant fight to stay awake.


What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes persistent sleepiness throughout the day, disrupting the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles.

Approximately 60–70% of people diagnosed with narcolepsy also experience cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle tone often triggered by a strong emotion like excitement or laughter. Narcolepsy that occurs with cataplexy is called narcolepsy type 1. Narcolepsy that occurs without cataplexy is called narcolepsy type 2.

What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness. An inability to remain awake and alert during the daytime / unintended lapses into drowsiness or sleep
  • Cataplexy. Brief episodes, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes, characterized by physical changes that may range from buckling of the knees or slurred speech to total paralysis with collapse. Not everyone with narcolepsy experiences cataplexy.
  • Sleep paralysis. Temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or upon waking up
  • Hallucinations. Vivid experiences that may occur while falling asleep or waking up

How is narcolepsy diagnosed?

If you experience symptoms of narcolepsy, you should talk to your doctor about possibly having a sleep test. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for evaluation and diagnosis. Your doctor or a sleep specialist will likely discuss your symptoms with you and ask about your medical history and any family history of sleep-related issues. You may also be asked to:

  • Rate your sleepiness in several categories using a numeric scale
  • Keep a diary for a short period of time to record your sleeping and other symptoms
  • Take an overnight sleep test to monitor your body and brain while you sleep
  • Take a daytime sleep test to see how long it takes you to fall asleep during the day

How is narcolepsy treated?

Treatment often focuses on trying to relieve symptoms. Stimulant medication may be prescribed to help you stay awake during the day, while the symptoms of cataplexy are sometimes treated with antidepressants. Additionally, some simple lifestyle-related steps may help, such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule, taking occasional short naps to avoid unexpected sleep attacks, and avoiding activities that result in sleep loss (staying up late on weekends).

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