Narcolepsy Symptoms - What Is Narcolepsy? - Narcolepsy Test

Are you tired all the time? Do you or someone you know struggle to stay awake or frequently nod of at inappropriate times?

If this happens to you, then you may be suffering from narcolepsy or you may need a better mattress such as the Nectar mattress (read our Nectar mattress review) that will allow you to get enough of a restorative night’s sleep and make you feel rested the next day. Last updated Feb 19, 2021 @ 3:43 pm

 

What Is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and drowsiness, sleep paralysis and in some cases even hallucinations and episodes of cataplexy (partial loss of control over muscles, usually triggered by laughter or some other strong emotion).

Those suffering from narcolepsy often experience difficulties staying awake for longer periods of time and struggle with doing everyday activities.

It occurs equally in men and women and there is no cure for this condition. However, there are certain practices, medications and lifestyle changes that can at least help you manage the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Types of Narcolepsy

There are two main types of narcolepsy: narcolepsy with cataplexy and narcolepsy without cataplexy.

Narcolepsy with Cataplexy

People who have this type of narcolepsy often experience sudden weakness in muscles and lose control over the muscles in their arms, legs, torso or face. It can also cause the person to have a sagging jaw, slur word, slump over, collapse and be unable to move.

During cataplexy, the person is awake and an episode can last for several seconds or up to two minutes. This type of narcolepsy is usually triggered by a strong emotion such as laughter.

Narcolepsy without Cataplexy

People with this type of narcolepsy have all symptoms of narcolepsy such as: excessive sleepiness, hallucinations and sleep attacks, sleep paralysis while falling asleep or waking up, etc. but without experiencing the episodes of muscle weakness.

This type of narcolepsy is usually less severe than narcolepsy with cataplexy.

Narcolepsy Symptoms

The symptoms of narcolepsy often appear in childhood or adolescence, but many people can have the symptoms of narcolepsy for years before realizing what exactly is going on and getting the right diagnosis.

They include:

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

People suffering from narcolepsy can experience excessive daytime sleepiness and fall asleep everywhere, at any time, without any warning.

They may wake up feeling refreshed at the moment, but eventually, they will feel sleepy again. They may also experience inability to stay focused and alert throughout the day.

Excessive daytime sleepiness is usually the first symptom of narcolepsy and is often the worst as it doesn’t allow you to normally function and perform your daily activities.

Sudden Loss of Muscle Tone

As mentioned, narcolepsy with cataplexy can also cause a sudden loss of control over muscles and lead to a number of physical changes such as slurred speech, sagging jaw, etc.

This can be triggered by some intense emotions such as laughter or excitement but sometimes also fear, anger and surprise.

While some people may experience this sudden muscle weakness once or twice a year, others may have several episodes per day.

Sleep Paralysis

Those suffering from narcolepsy may also experience a temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. These episodes usually don’t last long, but can be very frightening.

However, not everyone experiencing sleep paralysis has narcolepsy. Many people without narcolepsy experience episodes of sleep paralysis too.

Changes in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep

Most dreams occur during REM stage of sleep. People with narcolepsy may experience REM sleep at any time of the day and they often quickly transition to this stage of sleep, usually 15 minutes after falling asleep.

Hallucinations

Some people with narcolepsy can hallucinate when falling asleep or waking up.

These hallucinations are called hypnagogic hallucinations and they can be very vivid and frightening because you may not be fully asleep when you begin dreaming and you may experience your dreams as reality.

Other Characteristics of Narcolepsy

Those with narcolepsy may have other sleep disorders too such as restless legs syndrome, insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.

Some people with narcolepsy may also experience automatic behavior during episodes of narcolepsy.

They may fall asleep while performing certain activity such as typing, writing or driving and continue performing those activities and then don’t remember anything upon waking up.

What Causes Narcolepsy?

We do not know what exactly causes narcolepsy, but people with narcolepsy with cataplexy usually have low levels of hybocretin (chemical in your brain that helps regulate wakefulness and REM sleep).

What exactly causes the loss of this chemical is not known too, but some experts consider that it is due to an autoimmune reaction.

Genetics may also play a role in the development of narcolepsy.

Diagnosing Narcolepsy, Narcolepsy Test

If you experience excessive daytime sleepiness or any other symptom of narcolepsy and you suspect that you have narcolepsy, you should see your doctor.

They may ask you about your symptoms and sleeping habits and they may also carry out various tests to determine whether you suffer from narcolepsy or not and give you a proper diagnosis.

There are two tests that are considered to be essential in confirming a diagnosis of carcolepsy and they include: the polysomnogram and the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT).

Besides this, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and some other questionnaires are often used to measure excessive daytime sleepiness.

Treating Narcolepsy

Currently there is no cure for narcolepsy, but making certain changes in your lifestyle and taking the right medicines can help you minimize the effects of this condition and its impacts on your daily life.

You can take frequent, brief naps evenly spaced throughout the day to manage excessive drowsiness. You can also try to keep a strict bedtime routine and go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

If you experience severe symptoms of narcolepsy, you may even be prescribed certain medicines that can help reduce your daytime sleepiness, prevent cataplexy attacks and improve the quality of your sleep at night.

Read our article: How to Stay Awake and learn a few simple tips that can help you stay awake throughout the day. 

Conclusion

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, drowsiness, sleep paralysis and in some cases even hallucinations and episodes of cataplexy.

It can impact your daily life in many ways and it is not known what exactly causes it.

There is no cure for narcolepsy, but making some lifestyle changes and taking certain medications can help you manage its symptoms and the effects they have on your everyday life.

Scientists are currently investigating how certain factors affect the condition and hopefully they will find more effective treatments in the future.

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