Narcolepsy is a serious, but relatively uncommon, disorder characterized by sudden and uncontrollable attacks of sleep. These attacks can be brief - lasting just 30 seconds - or longer, lasting as long as 30 minutes or more. Sometimes the attacks are accompanied by hallucinations and/or temporary paralysis. Narcolepsy can be quite debilitating, causing lack of muscle control and dream experiences occurring at inappropriate times.
Sufferers often unexpectedly fall asleep in the middle of important activities, including driving and while playing sports. This can be quite dangerous for themselves and others. In addition, they can fall asleep during conversations and at work, harming their personal and professional relationships.
Those with Narcolepsy often experience a temporary paralysis, which can be physically harmful if they fall down, and also very frightening when it occurs.
Research to date reveals that Narcolepsy appears to affect the part of the central nervous system that controls sleep and wakefulness and that it is not a psychological disorder. While there is no "cure" yet, recent advances in medicine, technology and pharmacology allow those with Narcolepsy to lead nearly normal lives. The finding that the Brain Protein called Orexin or Hypocretin is deficient in patients with Narcolepsy by leading researchers, including our own, is bringing hope of a cure.
Diagnosing Narcolepsy needs to be done in a clinic that is familiar with sleep medicine. The patient's complete medical history is considered and the patient is given a thorough physical examination. Most often, patients are also given two tests, a polysomnogram and a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) to confirm a suspected diagnosis and also to determine the extent of the Narcolepsy.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) is an essential part of the diagnosis of Narcolepsy but may have a variety of other causes including Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), Circadian Rhythm Disorder and the syndrome of Primary Hypersomnolence.
The symptom of EDS is important because it is associated with feeling drowsy and tired; having an overwhelming need to sleep during the day, being unable to stay awake in the daytime, even after getting a good night's sleep and falling asleep at times you need to be fully awake and alert.
It could mean ineffective work performance or dangerous levels of driving or other activities and, interference with a person's ability to concentrate or perform daily tasks or routines. Some people affected by EDS often feel frustration and anger about being misunderstood and being regarded as unintelligent or not interested in personal growth or learning. They often have low self-esteem and/or poor personal relationships as a result.