Narcolepsy is a disabling sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness, abnormal REM sleep, and frequent daytime sleep attacks. It mixes the nervous system's messages about when to sleep and when to be awake. Narcolepsy usually starts during the teen years or early adulthood and continues throughout life.
Narcolepsy may cause:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). An irresistible need to sleep during the day and you can feel tired all the time. It's the primary symptom of narcolepsy and the first symptom that people notice.
- Sudden sleep attacks. These can occur any time, during any type of activity and without warning. They can also occur multiple times in a day and may last from a few minutes to several hours.
- Cataplexy. Sudden, brief periods of muscle weakness while a person is awake. The weakness may affect specific muscle groups or may affect the entire body. They are often brought on by strong emotional reactions such as crying, laughter, surprise or anger.
- Hypnogogic hallucinations. Vivid dream-like hallucinations while falling asleep or when waking up.
- Sleep paralysis. A brief loss of ability to move when waking up or falling asleep.
The first step to discovering if your excessive daytime sleepiness is caused by narcolepsy is have a consultation with a board-certified sleep physician who may order one or more of the following sleep studies:
- Actigraphy measures cycles of activity and rest over several days or weeks. An actigraph is worn like a watch on the wrist of your non-dominant hand and measures activity through light and movement. The information collected will tell your sleep provider about your general activity, sleep schedule, naps, wake episodes, as well as information about your sleep quantity and quality.
- Polysomnography is a noninvasive, pain-free procedure that requires spending a night in a sleep facility. During polysomnography, a sleep technologist records multiple biological functions during sleep, such as brain wave activity, eye movement, muscle tone, heart rhythm and breathing using electrodes and monitors placed on the head, chest and legs.
- Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) is a daytime sleep study involving 4-5 trials or "naps" spaced throughout the day. It immediately follows the overnight sleep study. This study gathers two key pieces of information: mean sleep latency, which is the average time it took you to fall asleep for all your naps and the number of rapid eye movement sleep (REM) periods.
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