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What Is Narcolepsy?

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.

What Causes Narcolepsy?

The cause is unknown. Narcolepsy rarely follows brain trauma but it may occur with nervous system diseases. It tends to run in families.

What Are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy?

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.

How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?

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.

How Is Narcolepsy Treated?

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.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Narcolepsy:

  • DO take your medicines as directed.
  • DO take regular naps during the day, if you can.
  • DO go to sleep and wake up according to a regular routine. Try to sleep at least 8 hours a night.
  • DO find a safe, well-lit place to stop and nap if you get sleepy while driving.
  • DO wear a medical alert bracelet that notes your condition.
  • DO educate your friends and family about your disorder.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have problems with your medicines or if the number of attacks or their severity increases.
  • DON’T drive until you control your narcolepsy.
  • DON’T drive or commute long distances.
  • DON’T smoke or drink beverages with caffeine or alcohol in the late afternoon or evening.
  • DON’T use the bed for nonrelaxing activities.
  • DON’T climb ladders. Don’t do things that may be dangerous should you fall asleep or lose muscle control.
  • DON’T work around dangerous machinery.

Contact the following sources:

  • American Narcolepsy Foundation
    Tel: (831) 646-2055
  • Narcolepsy Network, Inc.
    Tel: (888) 292-6522, (401) 667-2523
  • National Sleep Foundation
    Tel: (202) 347-3471

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc

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