Narcolepsy is defined by sudden “attacks” of sleeping that can occur without warning, causing serious disruptions to your daily routine. This chronic sleep disorder results in overwhelming fatigue and an inability to complete tasks or participate in activities.
In some cases, narcolepsy is accompanied by another condition called cataplexy, which results in a sudden loss of muscle tone. This is known as type 1 narcolepsy. Narcolepsy that occurs without cataplexy is called type 2 narcolepsy.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms associated with narcolepsy tend to worsen with age, and include:
- Excessive drowsiness and fatigue
- Sleep paralysis
- Disrupted sleep
If cataplexy is present, patients may also experience muscle loss.
Testing and Treatment
To determine whether you have narcolepsy, your doctor will try to better understand your sleep patterns. They will conduct a physical examination and gather your medical history. They may also ask you to keep a journal or sleep diary to record your symptoms over a period of a few weeks.
Your doctor may also refer you to a sleep specialist for a sleep study. A polysomnogram, or sleep study, is a comprehensive test that transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep, such as your heart rate, brain activity, eye movement and oxygen levels through a series of electronic sensors placed on your legs, head and chest. In order to diagnose narcolepsy, a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) will need to be conducted the following morning.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for narcolepsy, however medications and lifestyle changes can ease symptoms. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, for example, can help to regulate your circadian rhythm. Medications to combat fatigue or treat problems with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep can also be effective.