Community Health Network

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Narcolepsy

If you think you might have narcolepsy, talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment, and to make a referral. If you need a doctor, call 800-777-7775.

What is narcolepsy?

Imagine yourself ...

  • Waking up and not being able to move
  • Dropping objects from your hands for no reason or even collapsing in a heap on the floor
  • Going without sleep for 48 hours
  • Having nightmares so real that you can't decide if you dream them or not
  • Falling asleep while eating a meal, attending a business meeting or in the middle of a conversation.

This is what it is like if you suffer from narcolepsy, a lifelong sleep disorder characterized by a series of sleep attacks or an irresistible urge to sleep during the daytime.

Symptoms of narcolepsy

  • Excessive daily sleepiness
    Irresistible sleepiness, a lack of energy and susceptibility to falling asleep no matter how much sleep is gained at night.
  • Cataplexy
    A sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone due to emotions such as laughter, fear, anger or surprise.
  • Sleep paralysis
    An individual's inability to move as he is falling asleep or waking up.
  • Disrupted nighttime sleep
    Multiple awakenings during the night often accompanied by hunger cravings.
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations
    Vivid experiences often difficult to distinguish from reality.
  • Automatic behavior
    Difficulty in recalling routine activities.

What causes narcolepsy?

Researchers believe that narcolepsy is a neurologic disease that impairs the brain's regulatory sleep/wake mechanism.

It is also believed that narcolepsy is hereditary. A study of about 300 cases found that 54 of the cases were clustered into 19 families.

Who can get narcolepsy?

It is not known how many people suffer from narcolepsy, but it is estimated that up to 200,000 Americans have it, more than the number of cases of multiple sclerosis in America.

Narcolepsy first appears between the ages of 10 and the mid-20s. The first symptoms that occur are usually periods of excessive daytime sleepiness that are unrelieved by napping.

How is a person tested for narcolepsy?

Testing at the sleep wake disorders centers at Community Health Network, a fully accredited sleep center, can determine if a person has narcolepsy or not.

The sleep study test involves monitoring sleep by specially trained sleep technicians. Past medical information, a physical examination and sleep questionnaire are used with the test results for a precise diagnosis.

To be tested for narcolepsy, as with any needed medical test, physician referral is required. Your family physician may refer you to a Sleep/Wake Disorders Center.

How is narcolepsy treated?

Although there is no known cure yet for narcolepsy, there are certain drugs that can be prescribed by your doctor to treat more serious symptoms. For milder cases of narcolepsy, brief 10-15 minute naps may be advised.

Does it get worse with age?

Once a person has narcolepsy, they often have it for life, but the severity of the symptoms change at a very slow rate. It is uncommon for narcolepsy to begin after the age of 30.

For more information

For more information, please ask your family physician for a referral or contact a Sleep/Wake Disorders Center near you.

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