Narcolepsy is a rare condition in which people fall sleep at the oddest moments, almost always when they want to keep awake. This disorder is more neurological in nature. The brain sends sleep-inducing messages to the body at unpredictable and inappropriate moments.
They find themselves overwhelmed by the need to sleep at the oddest moments of the day in the mid of any activity. Often, a narcoleptic falls sleep when he or she is engaged in activities such as attending a meeting, watching a movie, eating, or conversing. Narcolepsy can be dangerous when a patient falls asleep in front of the steering wheel while driving or while cooking.
Most people suffering from narcolepsy are not aware of when and how they fall asleep or of how sleepy they actually are. Often family members, friends, and colleges have to convince them to seek the help of a doctor.
Narcolepsy can be identified through five major symptoms; insomnia and sleep fragmentation, excessive sleep during daytime, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic hallucinations. In some cases, patients experience only one symptom while others experience all the five.
Excessive Daytime Sleep
This symptom heralds the sunset of narcolepsy. All narcolepsy patients experience this symptom. The desire to go to sleep is so overpowering that the patient can do nothing about it. In spite of their most sincere attempts, they are not able to overcome it. This desire to sleep, commonly known as sleep attack, comes several times per day and lasts for a few minutes.
Fragmented Sleep and Insomnia
This is another common symptom of narcolepsy. Narcoleptics do not find it easy to fall sleep at night although they can easily sleep during the day. Even if they do fall sleep, they find themselves waking up multiple times. In other words, their sleep does the follow the normal REM / nonREM pattern.
About fifty percent of the people suffering from this disorder experience this symptom. For a long time before falling asleep or on waking, the patient will not be able to move or talk.
The condition of being unable to move one's muscle is called cataplexy. Cataplexy is short term, and about fifty percent of the people suffering from narcolepsy experience this disorder.
Cataplexy is due to a nonfunctional part of REM. Often, it is triggered by strong emotions. In extreme cases, the patient's knees buckle under him or her, the jaws and neck become weak, and he or she might collapse on the ground. In spite of the fact that the person looks sleep and can not talk, they are very much wake and know what is going on.
People experiencing this symptom see and hear very realistic, frightening images and sounds and experience weird physical sensations. These are experienced as dreams just before falling sleep or just before waking up. People experiencing this symptom find it hard to distinguish between reality and dream. Typically, these hallucinations are terrifying and are associated with sleep paralysis.
Narcolepsy is also associated with other minor symptoms such as migraine headache, problems with concentration and memory, blurred vision, and automatic behavior, which lasts for a long time. Automatic behavior means a person suffering from narcolepsy typically performing a task incorrectly. For example, he or she could go on writing past a page or put a turkey into the dishwasher, instead of in the oven.
Narcolepsy is a dangerous condition. If neglected and left untreated, it could absolutely wreck the patient's life.