Definition: What Is Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder associated with profound excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis, cataplexy and sleep hallucinations. This uncontrollable sleepiness is more than just being a little tired, it feels as though you are tired ALL the time and not only is it difficult to stay awake, when you do sleep it is not a deep, satisfying experience.1
From a more technical perspective, Narcolepsy is indeed a neurological disorder first documented in Germany in the late 1870’s. Recent research has focused on Genetic analysis that affects the production of chemicals in the brain, such as Hypocretin, which has an influence on sleep cycles and REM Sleep. Chemical imbalances together with environmental stresses are believed to trigger bouts of Narcolepsy and there is yet to be a consensus in the academic arena – sleep disorder, medical disorder, neurological disorder and in recent research even auto-immune disorder.
In summary, you frequently fall asleep at random times, unexpectedly and without warning…and it is a problem for you or your friends and family.
Types Of Narcolepsy
Broadly there are two types of Narcolepsy and in 2017 these were more clearly defined based on the outcomes of research completed over the last five years.
- Narcolepsy Type 1 (which used to be defined as Narcolepsy with Cataplexy) is described as a combination of hyper somnolence and have high levels of Hypocretin and also muscle weakness triggered by emotions
- Narcolepsy Type 2 (which used to be defined as Narcolepsy without Cataplexy) – community members with this condition experience excessive daytime sleepiness but usually do not have muscle weakness triggered by emotions. They usually also have less severe symptoms and have normal levels of the brain hormone hypocretin
- In Children – Narcolepsy can become recognizable in children as young as 5 or 6 years of age, and delays in diagnosis are understandably common. Early-stage narcolepsy in children has some unique clinical features compared with later onset cases, including daytime sleepiness manifesting primarily as habitual napping or irritability and hyperactivity
- In Adults – Research indicates that over 50% of Narcolepsy cases remain undiagnosed primarily because the symptoms are challenging to define without very specific testing, and regrettably also because people are somewhat embarrassed by the experience; we highly recommend seeing a Sleep Specialist if there is ever a continuous interruption to your sleep pattern
- Mild Narcolepsy – generally exhibits itself in minor examples of some of the 5 Core Narcolepsy Symptoms
- Severe Narcolepsy – as to be expected, this is demonstrated by extreme examples of the 5 Core Narcolepsy Symptoms resulting in examples such as falling asleep mid-conversation, falling asleep whilst walking, vivid dreams that you remember easily in wakening, hallucinations whilst you are awake