Perhaps one of the most famous and disturbing sleep disorders is narcolepsy — the condition where a seemingly fully alert person suddenly and without warning becomes drowsy and falls asleep. Approximately 1 in 2,000 people in the United States has narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy involves abnormal onset of REM sleep. Rather than progressing through a series of sleep stages, persons suffering from narcolepsy involuntarily fall into dream sleep at any time. The disorder may appear in several forms: sleep attacks, cataplexy, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, or fragmented night-time sleep.

In a sleep attack, a person may suddenly fall asleep during the course of their normal daytime activities; the sudden sleep attack may last a few minutes or hours. Cataplexy is a brief episode of muscle weakness that tends to last from a few seconds up to a minute. Hallucinations may occur as the person is falling asleep or waking up. Sleep paralysis may occur at the same time as the hallucination and causes the person to be unable to move even though he or she is awake and aware of the event. Disrupted night-time sleep involves multiple brief awakenings during the night.

Signs and symptoms of narcolepsy include excessive daytime sleepiness, micro-naps, abnormal REM sleep, REM intrusion into daytime wakefulness, muscle weakness when angry or laughing, sleep paralysis, hypnogogic hallucinations, leg jerks, nightmares and restlessness. These symptoms can develop suddenly or over many years. Narcolepsy often takes years to recognize in patients since many medical conditions present with fatigue as a common symptom.

To diagnose narcolepsy, an overnight diagnostic polysomnography is performed followed by a multiple sleep latency test the next day. The sleep disorder is difficult to treat, thus it is advisable to be under the care of a physician who is specially trained in sleep medicine. Individuals with untreated narcolepsy are 10 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than those who receive treatment.

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Sleep Centers of Texas
7839 Interstate 10 West
San Antonio,TX 78230-4779

Phone: 210.520.8333
Fax: 210.520.8335

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