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Narcolepsy

This neurological disorder affects the control of sleep and wakefulness, causing excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during normal waking hours.

The word narcolepsy comes from two Greek words that can be roughly translated as seized by numbness. The two primary symptoms in narcolepsy reflect this phrase:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, with frequent daily sleep attacks or a need to take several naps during the day. 
  • Temporary and sudden muscle weakness (called cataplexy), usually brought on by strong emotions.

Some, but not all patients experience other symptoms

Primary symptoms of narcolepsy include:

Excessive Sleepiness. All people with narcolepsy experience excessive sleepiness during the day with episodes of falling asleep rapidly and inappropriately, even when fully involved in an activity. These events may be characterized by the following behaviors:

  • “Microsleep” episodes, in which the patient behaves automatically but without conscious awareness.
  • A sense of paralysis that occurs between wakefulness and sleep (called atonia).
  • Dream-like states between waking and sleeping (called hypnagogic hallucinations). 
  • Periodic leg movements during sleep (periodic limb movement disorder). REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is abnormal in narcolepsy. In fact, narcolepsy is sometimes defined as the loss of boundaries between wakefulness, non-REM sleep, and REM sleep.

    Individuals often underestimate the duration of their drowsy periods and may not recall clearly their behavior during that time. 

Cataplexy. This is a sudden loss of voluntary muscle control, usually triggered by emotions such as laughter, surprise, fear or anger. Cataplexy occurs more frequently during times of stress or fatigue.

The cataplectic attack may involve only a slight feeling of weakness and limp muscles (such as sagging facial muscles, a nodding head, buckling knees, loss of arm strength, garbled speech); but it also may result in immediate total body collapse, during which the person may appear unconscious, but remains awake and alert. These attacks may last from a few seconds up to thirty minutes.

Hypnagogic hallucinations. These are vivid, realistic, often frightening dreams.

Sleep paralysis or temporary inability to move. Either of these symptoms can occur during the process of going to sleep or waking up, while the brain is partially asleep and partially awake.

  • Periods of drowsiness may occur every three or four hours and usually end in short naps. 
  • Individual may sleep for a few minutes, particularly if they are in an awkward position, or for a few hours if they are lying down.

Think you may be suffering from narcolepsy? Call either our Portland or Astoria, OR locations for more information!