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What the Symptoms of Narcolepsy Are

By Max. D Gray. Updated: January 18, 2018
What the Symptoms of Narcolepsy Are

People who suffer from narcolepsy have a neurological disorder that affects their sleep cycle. One of the main symptoms of narcolepsy is that the sufferer may fall asleep anytime, anywhere, without having any control over it.

At oneHOWTO we'll help you learn about this disease and you'll discover what the symptoms of narcolepsy, which is a serious sleep disorder.

You may also be interested in: What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnoea Syndrome?
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One of the clearest symptoms of narcolepsy is that the person has what's called "excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)". In other words, the person is sleepy and tired throughout the day, which causes them to fall asleep suddenly and enter REM sleep within a matter of seconds.

The person falls asleep so abruptly that it's likely that they don't even realise they're asleep, which is why they're unable to control when and where they sleep. A narcoleptic can fall asleep while they're standing up, which can result in falls and injuries. Even so, this will not cause the person to wake up.

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Narcolepsy also includes cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle tone, although this doesn't cause a loss of consciousness. Sufferers are physically relaxed as if they were asleep but remain mentally awake , causing them to react with strong emotions like laughter, fear or anger.

In addition to these reactions, narcoleptics may find that different parts of the body relax completely without the sufferer having actually fallen asleep. This can include head dropping, the eyelids drooping, a slackening of the jaw and weakness in the legs, etc. These attacks can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and can occur several times a day.

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Another symptom of narcolepsy is what are known as hypnagogic hallucinations. The hallucinations feel very real to the person experiencing them, both physically and visually, but in reality they are not real. These hallucinations are frightening and distressing, and occur when the narcoleptic goes from being awake to a sleeping state.

They can be such realistic visions that the person is unable to identify them as hallucinations. Therefore, it's very difficult for a sufferer to distinguish what's real and what's not, causing episodes of terror and great distress.

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Narcolepsy also produces sleep paralysis, that is, when the narcoleptic wakes up or just as they're falling asleep they're unable to move and are temporarily paralysed. This symptom can be accompanied by a pressure or ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and will disappear automatically or go away as a result of surrounding noise.

Sleep paralysis can also occur spontaneously in people who don't suffer from narcolepsy and is most common in adolescents.

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People can experience other symptoms of narcolepsy that are less frequent but they can be as a result of the condition:

  • Narcolepsy can cause depression
  • People can experience problems with their concentration or memory
  • An increase in appetite, which may cause weight gain
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If you have any of the symptoms that we've specified in this article, it's possible that you have narcolepsy. At oneHOWTO we recommend you consult a specialist who will prescribe a treatment plan and monitor the disease.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to What the Symptoms of Narcolepsy Are, we recommend you visit our Mental health category.

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Rebecca Stockburn
Dear Max Gray,

First of all I would like to thank you for what is quite a comprehensive list of most of the main symptoms of Narcolepsy, symptoms which I encounter daily. My battle with N started at approximately the age of 12, but got worse in my late twenties after a cold that would not go away. I developed cataplexy (collapsing, having trouble walking far, slurring etc..) as well as Fibromyalgia, and as a result had to give up my career as a teacher. You mentioned some symptoms which many of my doctors were originally baffled by, and didn't know were linked to Narcolepsy, and I was only diagnosed last year at the age of 29. This is the story for many of us, on average it takes between 10 to 15 years to be diagnosed, as it is so little understood (although research and treatments have progressed in even the last 10 years). So well done and thank you for your work (I was on here after checking if my regular ear ringing was linked to N too, despite my Dr saying no, but many of the PWN community saying yes).

For additional information, I would also add issues with temperature regulation, many of us have very cold hand and feet (Reynould's Syndrome, mine are currently like icicles, numb and I have blue nails, it has taken me therefore quite a long time to be able to type this as a result) as the part of our brain damaged, the hypothalmus, is responsible for sleep, appetite control, and temperature regulation etc... Furthermore, quite a lot of us, myself included, also develop Fibromyalgia (widespread chronic pain and stiffness etc) from lack of restorative sleep.

Lastly, and the main purpose of sending this email to you, is about an important error at the start of your article, Narcolepsy is not a mental disorder, it is neurological one. Please change this. Indeed, research into N has helped neuroscientists understand how one type of neuron functions within the brain, and could help better understand how the brain works. In effect, the part of our brain (some people with brain damage, MS, or tumours get secondary N), the neurons (hypocretin) or their receptors get damaged most often by what is believed to be an auto-immune response. This is probably why mine deteriorated rapidly in the early summer after a bad flu/cold that lasted most of the winter, and why research has shown that most cases of N start in spring/early summer after illnesses in the winter. I (and many others) would therefore be grateful if you could edit the word mental for neurological. Many PWN (people with Narcolepsy) are very sensitive to this, as often we are misdiagnosed with mental illnesses beforehand, treated unkindly by doctors because of this, not taken seriously , and/or called lazy, drunk/drugged when we get cataplexy, as well as made fun of for getting sleep attacks. It is a serious socially isolating (fall asleep at work, at parties, don't have energy to keep in touch or sometimes even meet for even a coffee) and life affecting disability (I've had a car crash because of it, can no longer drive, walk far most days, fallen in stairs, in shower, whilst cooking, can no longer do the job I loved, and have PWN friends who have broken many bones and can't leave the house, if interested check out videos of the late Dee Daud) caused by a physical and medical process, the label of mental disorder (unfairly, as mental illnesses are misunderstood and are often caused by physical processes too, eg latest research showing some types of schizophrenia could actually be because of an auto immune attack on the brain) is not helpful.

Many thanks for your time and consideration (your list is a good and thorough one),

Kind regards and best wishes,

Rebecca
OneHowTo Editor
Hi Rebecca,

Thank you for taking your time to comment and sharing your personal experience of narcolepsy with us. We have changed the usage of ‘mental’ to ‘neurological’ for the reason you suggested. Although the exact causes of narcolepsy are still unknown, the distinction between a mental disorder and a neurological one is important.

Just to add to your point, we would be concerned in underplaying the strong link between narcolepsy and other mental illnesses as the comorbidity of certain psychiatric conditions in patients with narcolepsy is high. As you have referenced, the stigma against mental illness is a grave problem. We are particularly sorry to hear how this stigma has affected your own diagnosis. The importance seems to be the difference in diagnosing EDS as a symptom of narcolepsy or part of another sleep disorder. We hope those with a debilitating sleep disorder, whether or not it is narcolepsy, are able to reach a helpful diagnosis without prejudice.

Thank you again for the great points you have raised in your comment, there is a lot of food for thought for other members of the community!

What the Symptoms of Narcolepsy Are
What the Symptoms of Narcolepsy Are

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