Narcolepsy… What’s that?

When I tell people I have narcolepsy, I generally get the same response: “So you can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation?”

For the record, I’ve fallen asleep in a lot of strange places but I’m fairly certain I’ve never fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) However, in all fairness, this is what I thought narcolepsy meant too, before I got it…

So, if narcolepsy isn’t what we think it was, then what is it exactly? Here’s my briefest of brief summary:

Narcolepsy is neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to properly regulate the sleep/wake cycle. The two most debilitating symptoms of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. A person with narcolepsy experiences episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness comparable to how a normal person would feel after staying awake for 48 to 72 hours straight.

Cataplexy is a form of temporary muscle paralysis completely unique to narcolepsy. Cataplexy varies in intensity; a person with severe cataplexy may collapse to the ground, unable to move or speak for a few seconds to a few minutes.

Society correctly associates narcolepsy with sleepiness, however this sleepiness is generally perceived as harmless or humorous. In reality, narcolepsy is a serious chronic disorder that can severely impact personal and professional lives. Studies indicate that narcolepsy’s affect upon quality-of-life is comparable to epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

For more complete information about narcolepsy, please visit the following websites: Narcolepsy Network, and Stanford Center for Narcolepsy.


  1. AD217 on December 8, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Hey Julie!

    Just stopped by and read through your blog. I applaud your efforts! I think this is really great 🙂 Hope all is well with you since the end of law school/the bar.

    Talk soon,

  2. Gurney Halleck on December 26, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Great brief summaries!! I also like the insight that society generally perceives excessive daytime sleepiness as harmless or funny. When it happens to you, it is anything but funny.

  3. Lexi Kellam on October 29, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Great piece of writing aside from the insightful description! As the mother of a Narcoleptic Cataplectic, I have learned the elements of these conditions from the sidelines….It’s difficult to be a loving spectator, too !

    • julie on October 30, 2012 at 1:03 am

      Thank you so much for your comment, Lexi. I imagine it’s very difficult from the point of view of a loving spectator. Thank you so much for supporting your child with narcolepsy and cataplexy. Your support is a gift to our whole community.

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