6 Common Signs and Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is characterized as a type of neurological disorder that impacts the area of the brain responsible for wakefulness and sleep control. Narcolepsy occurs in intermittent, uncontrollable “sleep attacks”, which cause extreme fatigue and even cause the narcoleptic to suddenly fall asleep throughout a day, regardless of time or activity level. For instance, a narcolepic could suffer a sleep attack during a morning work presentation or when driving home from work. Most narcoleptics remain undiagnosed and untreated.

While the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, medical professionals speculate that it’s a genetic disorder that impacts specific genes that control the production of wake and sleep chemicals within the brain. For instance, if the chemical hypocretin is deficient, REM sleep can be greatly disturbed and negatively impacted.

To be diagnosed as narcoleptic, one of the following warning signs of narcolepsy, ranging from mild to severe, must be present. Only a small portion (less than a third of patients) of narcoleptics have all four symptoms, which tend to crop up between the ages of 15- and 25-years old, but can occur at almost any age:

1. Cataplexy
Cataplexy is described by medical professionals as muscle weakness experienced during wakeful periods. Cataplexy can strike the entire body or specific muscle areas, causing weakness in the knees, sudden loss of grasping so you drop whatever you’re holding, or even entire loss of muscle control that affects the entire body, causing the patient to fall down. Cataplexy isn’t always present in narcoleptic patients, but when it is, it’s often triggered by powerful emotions (i.e., fear, anger, or surprise).

2. Sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis occurs during sleep. It causes complete paralysis (inability to move or speak) even though the patient is completely conscious. Sleep paralysis episodes usually last seconds to minutes, but due to how terrifying they are they can seem to last for long durations.

3. Other sleep issues
In addition to suffering sleep paralysis, narcoleptics tend to have difficulty falling and remaining asleep, which of course, makes daytime fatigue eve worse. Terrifying, lifelike dreams are also common in narcoleptic patients, causing restless slumber.

4. Hallucinations
In addition to suffering vivid, scary dreams during sleep, narcoleptics are also prone to suffering very lifelike hallucinations at the point of waking up or falling asleep. In fact, many narcoleptics claim they are fully aware (i.e., smell, taste, feel, and see) in their dreamlike states.

5. Focus issues
It may surprise you that many narcoleptic patients are characterized as “hyperactive”, meaning they not only have difficulty with memory and focus, but speed up their activities as opposed to slowing them down.

6. Extreme fatigue and sleepiness
Severe sleepiness and fatigue are perhaps the most attributed symptoms of narcolepsy. While it’s rare, some narcoleptics can literally fall asleep during a meal or conversation. In these cases, “automatic behavior” takes over, which means the individual will continue the action for several minutes, but the action is drastically compromised, and the patient often doesn’t remember it occuring. This extreme sleepiness can lead to further symptoms of memory and focusing issues, lethargy, mental fogginess, and depression.