Understanding Narcolepsy

Unless you have actually dealt with someone who is diagnosed with narcolepsy, it is common to think of the disorder as excessive sleepiness during waking hours. Although this is a symptom of narcolepsy daytime sleepiness is not all the disorder entails and can actually be attributed to a number of separate sleep disorders. Narcolepsy is a rare disorder that plagues 1 out of every 2,000 people and is characterized by a mix of daytime sleepiness, bedtime hallucinations, cataplexy, and sleep paralysis. Unless you have the whole cornucopia of symptoms chances are you don’t have narcolepsy.

Bedtime hallucinations occur due to the continuation or early startup of the REM cycle of sleep bleeding into a waking state. Hypnogogic (before sleep) and hypnopompic (directly after sleep) hallucinations can seem very real since you are essentially seeing parts of the dreaming world in your bedroom right before or right after you fall asleep. These hallucinations are not necessarily specific to narcolepsy and happen to a lot of people at one time or another. They are typically visual hallucinations but can also be auditory or even tactile in nature.

The most clearly related symptom to narcolepsy, cataplexy, is found in 75% of narcolepsy patients and is a dead give away. Cataplexy occurs when the patient experiences a strong emotion which causes them to lose muscle control and go limp, often causing them to fall onto the ground. This symptom is often thought of as sporadically falling asleep but during a cataplexy episode the patient is in fact awake the entire time. The most common emotion associated with these types of episodes is laughter but embarrassment, anger and any other strong emotion can trigger this response.

The last symptom of sleep paralysis is narcolepsy which we have discussed at length in the past. Sleep paralysis occurs when a person wakes from REM sleep and is unable to move their extremities. This occurs when the signals from the brain that occur during REM sleep which temporarily paralyze your muscles to keep you from acting your dreams out continue into your waking state. This can often be very frightening and a person may continue this paralysis until some outside stimulus jars them from that state.

If all of these symptoms are not present it may not be safe to assume that it is narcolepsy. If it is in fact narcolepsy there are many treatments available that curb the effects of narcolepsy. Either way you should consult your doctor and see what options are available to you.