Narcolepsy is a rare neurological condition. It affects the brain’s ability to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, which can cause a range of symptoms such as excessive sleepiness, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations and automatic behaviour.
Falling asleep at inappropriate times throughout the day and/or the experiencing of chronic pervasive sleepiness and fatigue. This will also produce poor concentration and attention with effects on short term memory. At least part of the sleepiness may be secondary to disturbed night-time sleep. This is the most well known symptom, however there is much more to narcolepsy as you will see below.
Cataplexy attacks involve a temporary involuntary muscle weakness in response to emotions or the anticipation of emotion. Positive emotions such as laughter are the most potent triggers although anger, fear, embarrassment and surprise may also provoke attacks in some. The severity of a cataplexy attack can vary from mild facial weakness to the buckling of the knees and collapse whilst still remaining conscious. Cataplexy attacks can last for seconds or up to two minutes and can occur repeatedly for up to 20 – 60 minutes.
Cataplexy is the most specific symptom in narcolepsy but it doesn’t’t appear in all patients. Around a third will not have cataplexy.
An inability to move while being conscious either at the onset of falling asleep or when waking from sleep. This usually lasts for a couple of minutes but can last for up to 30 minutes.
These are vivid, frequently frightening dream-like experiences which occur during the transition between the sleep and wakefulness. They may accompany sleep paralysis.
Automatic behaviour involves carrying on with an activity even though you have no recollection of it. You are not aware of your actions and don’t perform them well. For example, if you’re writing before falling asleep, you may scribble rather than form words.
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