What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
The symptoms of narcolepsy may be most apparent immediately following the condition’s onset and then may taper off after a few years. However, this is subject to change from individual to individual. Some of the most commonly experienced symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Cataplexy: Those with type 1 narcolepsy also experience cataplexy, which is an abrupt loss of muscle tone. Cataplexy attacks can range from mild to severe - examples include a slack jaw or a complete full-body collapse. Episodes are usually induced by intense emotions, frequently positive ones, although negative emotions can trigger episodes as well. The frequency of these episodes varies widely from case to case.
- Daytime fatigue: Those with narcolepsy can fall asleep anywhere, with no prior warning. Excessive sleepiness during the day makes it difficult to function properly and is one of the first and most widespread signs of narcolepsy.
- Sleep paralysis: While not everyone who experiences sleep paralysis has narcolepsy, it is a common experience among those diagnosed with the condition. Sleep paralysis usually involves an inability to move or speak upon first waking in the morning or while falling asleep. Even though episodes are generally brief, they can be frightening for some individuals.
- Hallucinations: Sometimes, while waking up or falling asleep, people with narcolepsy experience hallucinations. Because the person is not fully asleep, they may experience dreams as reality, which may be scary.
- Alterations in rapid eye movement (REM) cycles: REM is when a person’s deep sleep occurs and when most dreaming happens. Those experiencing narcolepsy transition very quickly to REM sleep, altering their sleep cycles.
- Other conditions: It’s also fairly common for people diagnosed with narcolepsy to suffer from other sleep disorders, such as insomnia, restless leg, or obstructive sleep apnea.
Is narcolepsy dangerous?
Yes, it’s possible for narcolepsy to be dangerous. Some people with narcolepsy experience attacks while performing automatic actions, such as driving or writing, and may continue to perform these actions for the duration of an episode. When they awake, however, they’ve rarely performed the task at hand well.
As you can tell, this behavior is risky. If you experience an episode while driving, you’re much more likely to get into a car accident. Another example of a common daily activity that becomes dangerous with narcolepsy is cooking, as it involves working with heat and sharp objects. It’s important to properly understand and manage your condition in order to protect yourself and those around you.