Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness and sleep attacks at inappropriate times. If you have narcolepsy, you can experience disturbed nocturnal sleep and an abnormal daytime sleep pattern.
Sometimes narcolepsy is confused with insomnia. When falling asleep, narcoleptics generally experience the REM stage of sleep within five minutes, whereas most people do not experience REM sleep until an hour or so later.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy occurs in approximately one out of every 2,000 people. Symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone that leads to feelings of weakness and loss of muscle control)
- Sleep paralysis
Narcolepsy usually begins between the ages of 15 and 25, but it can become apparent at any age. In many cases, narcolepsy is undiagnosed and, as a result, untreated. A physical exam and extensive medical history are necessary to properly diagnose narcolepsy. Diagnosis can be difficult if the sleep attacks are isolated or if cataplexy is mild or absent. Sleep studies or tests are usually required before a diagnosis.
Although narcolepsy cannot be cured, treatment can help patients significantly. Treatment is individualized for your particular case. Oral medications are the main treatment method of narcolepsy, but lifestyle changes can also be an improvement for patients.