Narcolepsy is a rare neurological sleep disorder that is estimated to affect as many as 200,000 Americans, however, fewer than 50,000 have actually been diagnosed with the condition. It is most characterized by Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS).
There are 4 classic symptoms of Narcolepsy: sleep attacks, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic (sleep-related) hallucinations. A person with narcolepsy may experience any or all of these classic phenomena.
- Sleep attack
The best known symptom of narcolepsy is the sleep attack. A person with narcolepsy can suddenly fall asleep into a sleep state with almost no warning whatsoever. Sleep attacks can occur at any time, even in midconversation, as many as 10 times a day (even more, in some cases). These periods of sleep usually last only a matter of minutes, but in some cases sleep can continue for an hour or more. Afterward, the person may feel refreshed, yet he or she may fall asleep again in a few minutes.
The second classic symptom of narcolepsy is cataplexy. This is a type of paralysis that usually occurs in response to some type of heightened emotion, such as anger, fear, or excitement. The individual does not lose consciousness, but experiences a sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone. Often, only the legs and/or arms are affected. These epesodes normally last less than a minute, and they seem to be most likely to occur if the person is surprised in some way.
- Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is the third classic symptom of narcolepsy. Just as you are falling asleep, or as you are beginning to awaken, you try to move or say something but find that you cannot, even though you are fully conscious. This lasts for only a second or two, but it can be frightening, especially the first time happens. These episodes usually end either on their own or when someone touches or speaks to you. Many doctors feel that sleep paralysis is similar to cataplexy and to the state that accompanies REM (Rapid-Eye-Movement) sleep, in which motor activity is inhibited even though the brain is active. This phenomenon is not strictly limited to people with narcolepsy; many otherwise healthy people may experience it occasionally. This means that not everyone with sleep paralysis has narcolepsy.
- Hypnagogic Phenomena
Like sleep paralysis, sleep-related hallucinations — medically termed hypnagogic phenomena—usually occur just prior to sleep, or sometimes upon awakening. The affected individual may hear sounds that aren’t there and/or see illusions. These visual and auditory illusions are very vivid. This phenomenon also can occur in individuals who do not suffer from narcolepsy, particularly from children.
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Because the symptoms of narcolepsy vary from one individual to individual (it is estimated that only 20-25 percent of people with narcolepsy experience all four of the classic symptoms), this disorder is frequently misdiagnosed. . .
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Source: Phyllis A. Balch, CNC; Prescription for Nutritional Healing, p. 590.