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What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes severe sleepiness and frequent sudden daytime attacks of sleep. Narcolepsy can cause you to fall asleep at any time but can keep you from sleeping well at night. You do not get enough sleep in a 24-hour period. The cause of narcolepsy is not known.

What are the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy?

  • Restless sleep: You toss and turn in bed, have leg jerks or nightmares, and wake up often.
  • Severe sleepiness during the day: Sleep attacks may happen up to 10 times each day. These sleep attacks usually happen after meals, but may even happen while you are talking or working.
  • Sudden loss of muscle strength: This is called cataplexy. Your muscles feel weak, or you have slurred speech. This is usually triggered by sudden strong emotions, such as joy or laughter. It can also be triggered by surprise, fear, or anger.
  • Sleep paralysis: You are unable to move or speak when you fall asleep or first wake up.
  • Hallucinations: You see or hear things that are not real when a sleep attack starts or when you wake up.

How is narcolepsy diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Tell him about your sleep history and what triggers your sleep attacks.

  • Sleep diary: You may need to keep a record of your sleep patterns for up to 2 weeks. This will help your caregiver plan the best treatment for you.
  • Polysomnography: This a sleep study that records your brain activity, oxygen level, and body movements while you sleep.
  • ECG: This is also called an EKG. An ECG is done to check for damage or problems in your heart. A short period of electrical activity in your heart is recorded.

How is narcolepsy treated?

Narcolepsy is a long-term condition. The goal of treatment is to decrease your symptoms and increase your quality of life.

  • Stimulants: This is medicine to help keep you awake during the day.
  • Antidepressants: This medicine helps decrease your cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Take naps: This can help control your narcolepsy. Take several 20 minute naps at the same time every day. One long nap in the afternoon may also help.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco: These can interfere with your sleep and make your symptoms worse.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise at least 4 hours before you go to bed can help you stay awake during the day. It can also help you sleep better at night. Talk to your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you.

What are the risks of narcolepsy?

Stimulant medicines can cause you to feel restless or excited. Narcolepsy can cause problems at work or in your relationships. Your symptoms may get worse as you get older. You can get into a car accident if you have a sleep attack while you are driving.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You symptoms interfere with your daily activities.
  • You are not able to sleep well at night, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.