Narcolepsy 101

Narcolepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system related to the brain’s ability to control its sleep patterns. It affects men and women equally, usually appearing in childhood or adolescence and lasting a lifetime. There’s no known cause for narcolepsy, and it’s often underrecognized and underdiagnosed.

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Narcolepsy is a serious yet misunderstood condition.

Narcolepsy can have a major impact on a person’s life, from a child who’s unfairly viewed as lazy by a teacher when she falls asleep in class or can’t keep up with the other students, or an adult who doesn’t succeed in a job because of it. It can also be dangerous for someone who has an attack while driving, cooking, or caring for a child. That’s why it’s important to recognize the symptoms and find the right treatment – whether it involves medication, behavior therapy, or some combination of the two.

Symptoms of narcolepsy include:

Excessive daytime sleepiness – Falling asleep during unusual or dangerous times, like during a one-on-one conversation or while driving. Also known as a “sleep attack.”

Cataplexy – Sudden, brief losses of muscle control. From as mild as a brief weakness in the knees to as serious as a complete collapse.

Sleep paralysis – The feeling of being unable to move or speak, but being completely aware of your surroundings, either just upon falling asleep or just waking up.

Hypnagogic hallucinations – Having a vivid, dreamlike experience that you’re unable to distinguish from reality. During these dreams, the person is awake but has no control over what’s taking place. This symptom can often be mistaken for a sign of mental illness.

Automatic behavior – Performing a routine task while asleep and not in control of your actions.

Disturbed nightime sleep – People with narcolepsy often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also have less restful sleep.

With the right treatment, a person with narcolepsy can lead a normal life. Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison suffered from narcolepsy, as does television host Jimmy Kimmel.

If either you or your child exhibit any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your family physician or pediatrician who can prescribe medication to help with the symptoms or refer you to a specialist.

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