Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming and severe daytime sleepiness. Pathologic sleepiness is characterized by the fact that it occurs at inappropriate times and places. The daytime sleep attacks may occur with or without warning, and can occur repeatedly in a single day. Persons with narcolepsy often have fragmented nighttime sleep with frequent brief awakenings.
Narcolepsy is typically characterized by the following four symptoms with varying frequencies:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (90%)
- Cataplexy (sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone often triggered by emotions such as laughter) (75%)
- Hallucinations (vivid dreamlike experiences that occur while falling asleep or upon awakening) (30%)
- Sleep paralysis (paralysis that occurs most often upon falling asleep or waking up; the person is unable to move for a few minutes) (25%)
Less frequently persons have all four symptoms (15%).
The following are some little known facts about narcolepsy:
- Frequently, narcolepsy is unrecognized for many years. There could be a delay of 10 years between the onset of the condition and the diagnosis.
- Approximately 50% of adults with narcolepsy retrospectively report symptoms beginning in their teenage years. For most patients, narcolepsy begins between the ages of 15 and 30 years. It less frequently occurs in children younger than age 10 years
of age (6%).
- Narcolepsy may lead to impairment of social and academic performance in otherwise intellectually normal children.
- Narcolepsy is a treatable condition. A multi-modal approach is most effective (medications, a regular nighttime sleep schedule, and scheduled naps during the day) is required for the most favorable outcome.