For 1 in every 2,000 Americans, the inability to stay awake at desired times is a serious disability. A majority of those who suffer from narcolepsy are unaware of the problem and receive no diagnosis or treatment.
Overview of Narcolepsy
A chronic sleep disorder, narcolepsy causes excessive drowsiness during the day followed by suddenly falling asleep. It can cause serious interruptions in patients’ daily routines. This lifetime disorder typically begins during childhood and adolescence and affects men and women equally.
One misconception is that patients sleep a great deal more than average in any 24-hour period. In fact, many experience poor nighttime sleep quality, sometimes coupled with other sleep disorders like nighttime wandering. Healthcare professionals typically describe short daytime bouts of sleep as “microsleeps,” during which individuals are unable to recall their actions.
This sleep disorder has no cure. Thanks to lifestyle changes and medications, most patients who receive treatment get back around 80 percent of normal function. The first step toward a diagnosis and treatment is evaluation at a sleep center in Las Vegas.
Signs and Symptoms
Narcoleptics experience a variety of daytime and nighttime sleep issues linked to disturbances in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. While signs might be initially subtle, over time, they can dramatically change. The most frequent include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness is common to nearly all narcoleptics. Even with sufficient nighttime sleep, the daytime problem interferes with normal life and causes a continual mental fog, low energy level, exhaustion, depression, or a combination.
- Cataplexy is an involuntary loss of muscle tone while awake. This causes feelings of weakness and sometimes also a lack of voluntary muscle control. Cataplexy is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be some type of seizure disorder even though the patient remains conscious.
- Sleep paralysis is an inability to move or even speak. It only occurs when patients are entering REM sleep at the appropriate point in a sleep cycle. The duration is ranges from several seconds to minutes.
- Hallucinations sometimes occur with sleep paralysis. They can happen during sleep or when awakening or falling asleep. While they are usually visual, other senses might play a role.
- Obesity occurs in some patients who have developed narcolepsy. Although the weight gain is usually sudden, active treatment can prevent it.
- Nocturnal sleep disruption occurs due to insomnia, talking during sleep, vivid dreams, sporadic leg movements, or acting out during a dream sequence.
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