Learning More About Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with narcolepsy fall asleep without warning, anywhere, anytime. When they awaken, they may feel refreshed, but eventually get sleepy again. Narcolepsy can drastically affect a person’s quality of life and can result in physical harm to themselves or others.

 There are two forms of narcolepsy: Type 1 narcolepsy is when sudden attacks of sleep are accompanied by a loss of muscle tone.  Type 2 narcolepsy occurs with no loss in muscle tone.

In addition to sudden attacks of sleep, some of the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • Decreased alertness and focus – Excessive daytime sleepiness makes it difficult for individuals to concentrate and fully function.
  • Sudden loss of muscle tone – This condition, called cataplexy can cause a number of physical changes, from slurred speech to complete weakness of most muscles, and may last up to a few minutes.
  • Sleep paralysis – People with narcolepsy often experience a temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or upon waking. These episodes are usually brief, lasting a few seconds or minutes.
  • Hallucinations – Hallucinations may occur while sleeping or while awake. These hallucinations may be particularly vivid and frightening because the person experiencing them may believe they are reality.

Narcolepsy symptoms typically begin anywhere between ten and thirty years of age. Symptoms may worsen for the first few years and then continue for life. People with narcolepsy may also have other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and even insomnia.

While the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, research has revealed that people with type 1 narcolepsy have low levels of the chemical hypocretin, which is an important neurochemical in your brain that helps regulate wakefulness and REM sleep. Those with a family history of narcolepsy have a greater risk of developing it.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for narcolepsy however medications and lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms.  It is recommended that you see a doctor if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness that disrupts your personal life.

Jamaica Hospital’s Sleep Center treats individuals with a wide variety of sleep disorders. Please call 718-206-5916 to schedule an appointment.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.