Coping with Narcolepsy

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • When discussing sleep disorders, sleep apnea is often the hot topic. But another sleep disorder can be just as life disrupting as apnea, and has many of the same problems, plus more than a few of its own.


    Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes sufferers to fall asleep without warning, no matter what they're doing at the time - working, driving, cooking or involved in some dangerous activity. Approximately one in 2,000 people suffer from narcolepsy. It often starts during childhood and is a lifetime condition. The good news is that it can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medication.

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    • Sudden uncontrollable urges to sleep, no matter what you're doing.
    • Extreme daytime sleepiness.
    • Other symptoms similar to sleep apnea - lack of energy, irritability, depression.


    • Cataplexy - Unable to control muscles when faced with emotional situations, even laughter. The victim may fall down and be unable to get up for a few minutes. warns: "In so collapsing, people with cataplexy may injure themselves."

    • Hallucinations - Vivid, frightening visual or auditory visions when falling asleep or awakening.

    • Sleep Paralysis - Although this can be a sleep disorder on its own, it can also be a symptom of narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis is the inability to move upon first falling asleep or awakening, and can be very frightening, although not considered life threatening.

    • Microsleep - The Medical Dictionary describes microsleep as: "A period of sleep that lasts up to a few seconds, usually experienced by narcoleptics or by severely sleep-deprived people." During microsleep, the person may continue to function as though awake but have no memory of what he/she had done when awakening.


    One of the best treatments for narcolepsy is to learn to manage your life around it. Take daytime naps, avoid stimulants that could keep you awake at night, including caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, and let family and co-workers know what is going on with the disorder. You might be surprised how willing most people are to help with your symptoms.


    Above all, avoid dangerous jobs or any activity where suddenly falling asleep could be hazardous to your health. And remember, just like sleep apnea, narcolepsy can lead to drowsy (and deadly, driving.)


    Some medications prescribed for narcolepsy include stimulants, antidepressants and sodium oxybate for cataplexy.

Published On: August 03, 2010