Narcolepsy Quick Facts

Definition: Narcolepsy is a neurological autoimmune sleep disorder in which the brain loses the ability to maintain normal sleep and wake states.  Affects 1 in every 2,000 Americans (200,000-250,000 Americans).
·      Periods of extreme sleepiness during the day, comparable to how someone without narcolepsy would feel after staying awake for 48-72 hours straight.
·      Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone while awake, resulting in the inability to move. Emotions, such as laughter or anger, will often bring on cataplexy. In severe cases, cataplexy may cause a person to collapse to ground and stay paralyzed for as long as several minutes.
·      Hallucinations while falling asleep or waking that are often frightening
·      Sleep paralysis upon waking or falling asleep, during which an individual is awake but cannot move
·      Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder. Narcolepsy isn’t related to seizure disorders, fainting, simple lack of sleep or other conditions that may cause abnormal sleep patterns.
·      There are two forms of narcolepsy, Narcolepsy with Cataplexy (N+C) and Narcolepsy without Cataplexy (N-C).
o   In N+C, an autoimmune reaction destroys the brain’s 70,000 hypocretin-producing cells. Hypocretin neurotransmitters are essential to proper regulation of sleep and wakefulness.
o   The cause(s) of N-C are not well understood.
·      Many primary care doctors are unfamiliar with the basic symptoms of narcolepsy.
·      Individuals experience symptoms for an average of 3 -5 years before receiving an accurate diagnosis and 10 -15 year delays are not uncommon.
·      Narcolepsy is a chronic, lifelong condition. There is no cure for narcolepsy.
·      Leading FDA-approved treatments for narcolepsy: Provigil, Nuvigil and Xyrem. A variety of older medications are prescribed off-label as well.
·     Many patients manage their narcolepsy with multiple medications and diligent personal attention to their health.
Living with Narcolepsy
·      Narcolepsy can cause serious disruptions to daily routine and compromise education, employment, and family opportunities.
·      Studies indicate narcolepsy’s affect upon quality of life is comparable to epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.


  1. […] This preview highlights cataplexy, a symptom of narcolepsy when emotions (humor, annoyance, joy, anger) causes loss of muscle tone without loss of consciousness. The individual remains conscious and fully aware of their surroundings and can hear everything around them, but is unable to respond because their body is temporarily paralyzed.  I trust National Geographic Channel will clarify this common inaccurate misconception. To learn more, click here. […]

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