What is it?
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy may experience sudden urges to sleep throughout the day. Narcolepsy sufferers may even fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes throughout the day.
Risks and symptoms
In addition to excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), three other major symptoms frequently characterize narcolepsy: cataplexy (the sudden loss of muscle tone), hallucinations during sleep onset or upon awakening, and brief episodes of paralysis at the beginning or end of sleep. In extreme cases, narcolepsy may cause sufferers to fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, while standing up, or while driving. In rare cases, the sufferer may remain asleep for an hour or longer. Narcolepsy is sometimes not diagnosed until 10 or 15 years after symptoms begin to appear.
There is no cure for narcolepsy. Drug therapy should be supplemented by behavioral strategies. Many people with narcolepsy take short, regularly scheduled naps when they tend to feel sleepiest. Improving the quality of nighttime sleep can also combat daytime sleepiness and help relieve feelings of fatigue. People with narcolepsy can enhance sleep quality by avoiding alcohol and caffeine-containing beverages before bedtime.