Typically, the symptoms of narcolepsy include pronounced daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, or sudden muscle control loss, which can cause muscle weakness and slurred speech. Cataplexy can cause the head to droop unexpectedly and the knees to buckle when intense emotions are triggered. In addition, sleep paralysis may occur. Sleep paralysis involves the transient inability to speak or move while awakening or falling asleep. Typically, people suffering from narcolepsy will fall asleep uncontrollably, at any time, even while performing tasks, such as cooking or driving.
Occasionally, hallucinations accompany narcolepsy. Narcolepsy associated hallucinations is referred to as hypnagogic. Typically, the patient who experiences these types of hallucinations become frightened because the images are particularly realistic and vivid. Restless may also be associated with symptoms of narcolepsy. Sometimes, the individual may experience automatic behaviors, causing him to speak or perform routine tasks while sleeping.
Generally, symptoms of narcolepsy begin around age 10, but they can manifest at any age. Symptoms of narcolepsy are usually chronic and vary in intensity, and they rarely resolve completely. Sometimes, disturbing presentations of narcolepsy may include screaming, kicking and arm flailing during sleep. Most of the time,however, the most common symptoms of narcolepsy are falling asleep, or nodding off without warning.
Symptoms of narcolepsy can be embarrassing. Individuals frequently may fall asleep while talking or sometimes while they are at work. In addition, symptoms may include feeling awake and refreshed for a few minutes, and then falling asleep again after a half-hour, or so. Typically, the narcoleptic patient seldom feels refreshed or gets recuperative sleep.
Although the exact cause is unknown, this sleep disorder may have a genetic predisposition. Another possible cause of narcolepsy may be damaged brain cells brought upon by infection. Since certain brain cells are key factors in normal sleep patterns, brain cells that have been damaged may cause abnormalities in sleep cycles. Typically, symptoms of narcolepsy occur because the individual suddenly enters into the rapid eye movement or REM cycle of sleep, which normally does not happen until later in the sleep cycle.
When symptoms of narcolepsy become evident, prompt medical evaluation and treatment should be sought. Excessive sleepiness during the daytime can be disruptive and even dangerous. Usually, diagnosis of narcolepsy can be assumed by symptoms given to the physician. The physician may also recommend sleep studies to determine the extent of the narcolepsy and rule out other causes of abnormal sleep patterns, such as sleep apnea. Sleep studies are generally carried out overnight in a hospital setting.