6 Symptoms Of Narcolepsy Or Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

symptoms of narcolepsy

Feeling sleepy during the day? Or falling asleep all of a sudden? You might be suffering from narcolepsy.

Welcome to the nightmarish world of narcolepsy, a strange place of sleep attacks, vivid hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. Affecting about 1 in 3000 Americans, narcolepsy is a chronic condition that impacts the brain and causes excessive daytime sleepiness.1 What causes narcolepsy? Widely different factors like gene defect, stress, brain injury, and swine flu. Narcolepsy might not have a seriously detrimental effect on your physical health but its many symptoms can be hard to cope with.2 Here’s a look at the symptoms of narcolepsy so that you can identify whether your daytime sleepiness is narcolepsy or just plain old tiredness.

1. Drowsiness Through The Day

You would be likely to report low levels of energy, exhaustion, and unclear thinking.

This is the most common symptom of narcolepsy, where people feel perpetually drowsy during the day. Many narcoleptics report

being unable to think clearly, feeling low on energy, or being exhausted.

Some people may suddenly and uncontrollably fall asleep for brief periods, say a few seconds, during the day (called a sleep attack), with about 40% automatically continuing with whatever they were doing – but without remembering what they did when they wake up.3 For example, if they were tidying up, they may not remember where they placed things. People are prone to make mistakes or have accidents when this happens.

2. Sudden Muscle Weakness (Cataplexy)

Cataplexy is a sudden, temporary muscular weakness. This can be mild or severe. But unlike a seizure disorder, even with a severe instance of cataplexy – like when a person collapses to the floor – there’s no loss of consciousness.

An intense emotion like anger or fear may suddenly paralyze all your muscles though you remain fully conscious.

Cataplexy is often initiated by intense emotions like anger, fear, or humor. It has been found that the brain cells that are responsible for

stopping muscular activity during REM sleep are also involved in cataplectic attacks.

3. Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is like having a cataplectic attack that affects all the muscles of the body. The person can’t speak or move. This usually happens when narcoleptics are falling asleep or waking up. It is like the arresting of muscular activity that normally happens during REM sleep.

While falling asleep or when waking up, you might be unable to move, speak, and react. About 17 to 40% narcoleptics experience this sleep paralysis.

Just like a cataplectic attack, this too is temporary and people often remain conscious during these episodes. About 17 to 40% narcoleptics suffer from sleep paralysis.4

4. Disturbed Sleep

Most people with narcolepsy have trouble sleeping peacefully; their sleep may be disrupted by vivid dreams that have them acting out scenarios, insomnia, and incessant talking or mumbling. This is because while healthy sleepers enter the dream phase or the REM phase 80 to 90 minutes after falling asleep, narcoleptics start

dreaming soon after going to sleep, often within 15 minutes.5

5. Vivid And Often Scary Hallucinations

People with narcolepsy tend to hallucinate while they are sleeping or when they are waking up or falling asleep. The hallucinations can be extraordinarily vivid and can seem real and frightening. They may feel a threatening presence in the room or feel attacked. These hallucinations often accompany episodes of sleep paralysis. As narcoleptics enter the REM phase soon after they hit the bed, the increased brain activity and muscle weakness that are characteristic of the REM phase can set in during wakefulness itself.

6. Obesity

It’s been observed that many people put on weight when they get narcolepsy.6 This can be attributed to the low basal metabolism rate caused by low activity levels and change in eating behavior.7

The lack of hypocretin in your body affects the burning of calories and contributes to weight gain and obesity.

Another recently discovered cause is the deficiency in hypocretin (also called orexin). Hypocretin encourages the formation of brown fat, which helps burn calories. Lack of hypocretin also results in the lack of brown fat and causes the narcoleptic patient to gain weight.8

Living With Narcolepsy

There is no cure for narcolepsy but your doctor might be able to prescribe medication that can control some of the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Maintain Sleep Hygiene

Some habits can help improve your quality of sleep and manage daytime drowsiness and fatigue.9 These include:

Sleep at a regular time, eat a light dinner, and keep your bedroom cozy.

  • Waking up and going to bed at a regular time every day
  • Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and caffeine,
    especially before bedtime
  • Refraining from having huge heavy meals for dinner
  • Keeping your bedroom warm and comfortable

Take An Afternoon Nap

Research has also found that taking a 15-minute nap in the afternoon can help people with narcolepsy.10

Take a 15-minute nap in the afternoon, practice yoga for insomnia, and try out hypnosis to alleviate some of the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Try Yoga And Hypnosis

Yoga too has been found to have a positive effect on how well you sleep. One study found that people suffering from insomnia who practiced yoga fell asleep sooner, slept longer, and woke up fewer times during the night.11

There is also some evidence that hypnosis can be helpful with some symptoms of narcolepsy like sleep paralysis.12