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Narcolepsy Symptoms

(Also Known As: Insomnia Symptoms, Narcoleptic Symptoms)

(Reviewed by: Paul Peterson, Licensed Therapist)

What are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy?

The hallmark symptoms of narcolepsy include the following:

  1. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS)
    • This is the most clinically apparent symptom experienced by narcoleptics. EDS can interfere with normal daily activities of the person regardless whether the person has had sufficient sleep at night. Mental cloudiness, memory lapses, reduced energy and concentration, extreme exhaustion and depressed moods are among the reported symptoms. 3 The involuntary sleep episodes occur briefly. Microsleeps often occur during which a narcoleptic falls asleep for a few seconds while performing a task, but continues to carry on the completion of the task with no apparent interruption. Narcoleptics usually cannot recall their previous performance during microsleep. Their handwriting may become an illegible scrawl as they fall into a microsleep when writing and they may store items without recalling the location where they place them. EDS can be a dangerous condition when it occurs when one is driving, which can cause an accident.
  2. Cataplexy
    • This condition can result in the sudden onset of various physical changes such as slurred speech, loss of muscle tone, weakness, and total body collapse which can be triggered by intense emotions such as anger, surprise, and laughter. The attack can occur any time with the first episodes experienced during weeks or months after the onset of EDS. Oftentimes, cataplexy is misdiagnosed as a seizure disorder. Loss of muscle tone is barely perceptible, usually occurring as a mild drooping of the eyelids. In sever attacks, however, the loss of muscle tone can result in the physical collapse of the body with the person unable to walk, move, keep their eyes open, or speak. During attacks of cataplexy the person remains conscious which is its distinguishable feature from a seizure attack.
  3. Sleep Paralysis
    • The symptom consists of the person’s inability to temporarily move while waking up or falling asleep, with a brief duration of few seconds to a few minutes. This condition can often time become a horrifying experience since the person may think they are paralyzed or even dying. After each episode of attack the person fully recovers with full capacity to speak and move.
  4. Hallucinations
    • This is also called hypnagogic hallucination in which the person experiences a delusional state of falling asleep while being in a semi-awake state. Hallucinations may occur along with sleep paralysis or it may occur alone.

Aside from the hallmark symptoms of narcolepsy there are also other general symptoms that narcoleptics manifest: 4

  • Disturbed nocturnal sleep (Increased body movements and frequent awakenings).
  • Automatic behavior (the person carries out an action without the conscious awareness of it, which occurs between the fluctuations of sleep and wakefulness)
  • Eye disturbance (blurred visions, droopy eyelids, and double vision)

Narcoleptic symptoms usually appear between the ages of 10 and 25 but it can become apparent clinically at any age. The first experience of symptoms is usually between 35 and 45 years of age. Some narcoleptics experience a decline in daytime symptoms with reduced severity as they reach 60 years old.

The EDS symptom occurring early in life can be more severe than when it occurs during the adult years. Narcolepsy is also believed to contribute to the development of certain childhood behavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The symptoms of narcolepsy can pose serious problems affecting social, psychological, and cognitive development of a person. It may also lead to low self esteem in younger people, owing to poor academic performance that may persist until adulthood.

Could You Have Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy Topics

Related Conditions

Dyssomnia – Difficulty Remaining Asleep, Disturbed Quantity and Quality of Sleep
Hypersomnia – Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, Prolonged Nighttime Sleep, Repeated Daytime Naps
Parasomnias NOS – Abnormal Movement When Sleeping, Abnormal Emotion and Behavior During Sleep, Sleepwalking, Bruxism, Sleep Terror Disorder, Nightmare Disorder