Narcolepsy is a rare condition in which people fall asleep anytime or anywhere without control, regardless of the amount of sleep that they had. People may feel rested after sleeping for 10 or 15 minutes during an attack, but then this rested feeling goes away, and they get sleepy again. These attacks can occur, in men and women equally, when driving, working, or talking. Symptoms are first noticed in teenagers and young adults but may be undiagnosed for years. Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition.
The cause is unknown. Narcolepsy rarely follows brain trauma but it may occur with nervous system diseases. It tends to run in families.
Symptoms include daytime sleep attacks lasting from a few seconds to 30 minutes and occurring up to 10 times daily, vivid dreams during attacks, and temporary inability to move before or after the attack.
A common symptom of narcolepsy is partial or complete weakness of muscles (cataplexy) that is caused by intense emotions such as excitement or anger. Other symptoms include doing normal activities without being aware of it and waking often or tossing and turning at night.
Poor nighttime sleeping can lead to tiredness during the day, depression, trouble concentrating or memorizing, vision problems, eating binges, and trouble handling alcohol.
The health care provider will do an examination and ask about sleep patterns. The health care provider may suggest seeing a health care provider who specializes in sleep disorders. Diagnosis may involve spending a night in a sleep laboratory so equipment can be used to find out about sleep patterns.
No cure is known, and no one therapy will control all symptoms. The health care provider will probably prescribe medicines to reduce daytime sleepiness and help get a good night’s sleep. Regular naps during the day may also help.
Stimulant medicines combined with 15- to 20-minute naps may improve disabling effects of narcolepsy.
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