What is Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder which affects a person’s control of sleep and wakefulness. The most common symptom is excessive sleepiness during the day. Narcolepsy involves a problem in the brain’s signals. As a result, you may fall asleep when you should be awake during the day.

Key Points

  • About 1 in 2,000 people in the U.S. have narcolepsy
  • Symptoms often begin to occur during the teenage years
  • People often have narcolepsy for many years before they get a diagnosis
  • Untreated narcolepsy can have a negative impact on your performance at school and at work
  • People with untreated narcolepsy are 10 times more likely to get into a car accident than those who receive treatment.

General Overview

Excessive daytime sleepiness is often the first symptom of narcolepsy to appear. This need to sleep during the day can be impossible to resist. In some cases, sleepiness occurs in sudden sleep “attacks.”

Other symptoms may include:

  • Cataplexy is a brief episode of muscle weakness. For example, you may feel your knees buckle. In some cases, it can cause you to collapse to the floor. Cataplexy is often triggered by strong emotions such as laughter or surprise. It tends to last from seconds,  to a minutes. It usually does not cause injury. Not all individuals with narcolepsy will have cataplexy.
  • Hallucinations may occur as you are falling asleep or waking up. These vivid, dream-like events seem real and may be frightening.
  • Sleep paralysis also occurs as you are falling asleep or waking up. It causes you to be unable to move even though you are awake and aware of the event.
  • Sleep paralysis may occur at the same time as a hallucination.
  • Disrupted nighttime sleep may involve multiple brief awakenings during the night. Most people who have narcolepsy are able to fall back to sleep easily. Fragmented sleep is more common in people who have had narcolepsy for a long time.

Since narcolepsy is not a common sleep problem,  primary care providers may not recognize all the signs & symptoms of narcolepsy, making it a difficult disorder to diagnose.  Dr. Lynch is a board certified sleep medicine physician who can help make the proper diagnosis.

Am I at Risk

The vast majority of narcolepsy cases occur without any risk factors. Your risk of having narcolepsy is slightly higher if a family member also has it. Research suggests that a trigger may cause some cases of narcolepsy. Potential triggers include:

  • head injury
  • chronic sleep deprivation
  • viral illness
  • strep infection

For more information please call (603) 347-8810