What Is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes you feel overwhelmingly tired and in severe cases, causes uncontrollable sleep attacks. Oftentimes, people do not know they have narcolepsy. About 1 in 2,000 people have some form of it. Narcolepsy can run in some families, but most cases are not genetic.

There are two types of narcolepsy:

  • Narcolepsy with cataplexy: This is a combination of excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, which is when you have attacks that cause a sudden loss of muscle tone while you are awake. It may lead to slurred speech and buckling knees, or in more severe cases, complete paralysis. These events are usually triggered by strong emotions such as joy, surprise, laughter or anger.
  • Narcolepsy without cataplexy: This occurs when you have continuous excessive sleepiness but no cataplexy. You may take a nap for a couple of hours and wake up feeling refreshed. But after a short time, you feel tired again.

Narcolepsy is characterized by the following complaints:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks
  • Disturbed or light sleep at night

These complaints usually start between the ages of 10 to 20 years, but may also start later.

Untreated daytime sleepiness can lead to problems with social and occupational functioning. It is also associated with a higher risk of automobile and work-related injuries. In addition, when untreated, cataplexy may lead to injuries related to falls, including fractures.