What is Narcolepsy?

Last Updated : 09/15/20183 min read

Narcolepsy may cause a person to feel very sleepy at inappropriate times and involuntary fall asleep during normal activities, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The word “narcolepsy” comes from the Greek “nark” which means numbness or stiffness, according to Dictionary.com. Narcolepsy affects about 200,000 Americans, according to the Narcolepsy Network.

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What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, people with narcolepsy can enter REM (rapid eye movement) sleep immediately when usually it’s normal to reach REM sleep gradually at the end of a sleep cycle. According to the Narcolepsy network, symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Sleep attacks
  • Cataplexy (loss of muscle tone/sudden and uncontrollable muscle weakness)
  • Sleep paralysis (complete or partial loss of function or move)
  • Hallucinations (dream-like visions that feel real)
  • Disrupted nighttime sleep

The hallucinations and paralysis associated with narcolepsy blur the line between dream sleep and wakefulness. Paralysis combined with hallucinations can be very frightening, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

What are the types of narcolepsy?

According to the Narcolepsy Network, there are two types of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy with cataplexy is called narcolepsy type 1. Cataplexy may cause slack jaw or a full body collapse. Narcolepsy without cataplexy is called narcolepsy type 2.

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How is narcolepsy diagnosed?

Narcolepsy is diagnosed through a sleep study which requires a night’s sleep in a sleep lab. Learn more about Medicare coverage of sleep studies. According to the Narcolepsy Network, narcolepsy is often misdiagnosed as depression, insomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea.

How can I live safely with narcolepsy?

According to the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine, day to day activities can be hazardous for people with narcolepsy. These activities include driving, cooking, and even crossing the street. People with narcolepsy are up to four times as likely to have a car accident, and the risk is especially high on long drives. Self-awareness can be key in avoiding accidents. It may help to be aware of what conditions trigger your sleepiness or cataplexy. Currently there is no cure for narcolepsy, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but medications and other treatments can help people with narcolepsy lead productive lives.

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