What Is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological sleep disorder that is characterized by tiredness and sleep attacks at random times. Individuals with this disorder tend to have problematic sleeping patterns during both nighttime and daytime hours which can sometimes be confused with insomnia. People with narcolepsy typically enter REM sleep within ten minutes of falling asleep whereas the average person usually takes at least an hour to enter this stage of sleep. Another common symptom is excessive daytime sleepiness which causes narcoleptic individuals to sometimes fall asleep even when they don’t intend to. Additionally, narcoleptic individuals experience sleep paralysis which causes muscle paralysis when the person is either falling asleep or waking up, although they are still mentally aware at the time.
Sleep paralysis illustrates how the brain impacts the body during sleeping and waking stages. For normal individuals, muscles become paralyzed during REM sleep; however, this is not so while they are awake. Additionally, during sleep stages, it is possible for the mind to become aware while they body is still technically asleep. During waking hours, on the other hand, both the mind and the body are actively aware.
This is a disease that causes periods of daytime sleep and can cause muscle weakness. It can also cause hallucinations and sleep paralysis. It has no cure, but things such as a better lifestyle, health, and relaxation sometimes can help lessen the blow of the disease and research is ongoing so they may even find a cure.
Most people think of a narcoleptic as a person who merely falls asleep at inappropriate times. However, there are several other symptoms associated with narcolepsy. These include excessive daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, and cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle strength following an emotional event). Persons with narcolepsy experience an uncontrollable desire to sleep, sometimes many times in one day. Episodes may last from a few minutes to several hours.
Sources: Golob, Richard. Almanac of Science and Technology: What's New and What's Known, p. 136; Mosby's Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary, 3rd ed., p. 792.