Before going into the details of what the ‘symptoms’ of this condition known as Narcolepsy are, let’s take a moment to understand what this term actually means. Narcolepsy is NOT like epilepsy just because they have the same last three letters, but is in fact a neurological disorder related to the human sleep cycle. Patients suffering from narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep, regularly during the daytime. These random ‘sleep attacks’ can happen during any type of activity at any given time of the day! Imagine you’re midway through your lunch and you find your face splat on the plate…because you fell asleep!
Here is a concise list of symptoms that people suffering from Narcolepsy may experience. If you experience three or more of these symptoms then you should definitely delve closer into the causes and not ignore the condition!
Extreme Day Time Sleepiness– In general, we all tend to feel groggy and sleep deprived from time to time and can doze off on extremely tiring days but this symptom is slightly more severe and unavoidable. This is the most obvious symptom in the disorder, where in emotions such as fear, anger, extreme happiness or grief…basically emotional rollercoasters. The period of sleepiness generally lasts for 30 minutes or less, and leaves you with grogginess, lack of energy, inability to concentrate among other symptoms.
A Phenomenon called Cataplexy – This is a condition where in you lose your muscle tone while you’re awake and results in muscle weakness. The symptoms can be anything right from making your head nod and make it hard to utter words from your mouth, or even drop whatever you have at hand and result in a total muscle failure and you falling! Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
This too is a condition triggered by emotions such as surprise, anger or laughing and can lead to slurring of speech or more depending on which muscles are actually involved in performing that particular action.
Hallucinations – When you’re not on drugs or any intoxication, but you’re still experiencing hallucinations then you know that something is definitely not right! These can occur when you’re awake, asleep or in the middle of both and seem unbelievably real! These vivid hallucinations mostly are only visible but sometimes involve the other senses as well. They’re called hypnagogic hallucinations when you experience them in your sleep and hypnopompic hallucinations when they happen during awakening.
Sleep Paralysis – This is one of the scariest symptoms that one could possible experience, with the patient being unable to move a single muscle for the affected period of time. Literally, one is paralyzed for a few seconds or minutes while he/she is awake or about to sleep. The scary part isn’t the temporary paralysis; it’s the fact that the sufferer is completely conscious during the paralysis. Usually after the episode ends, the person quickly recovers the ability to move and speak and basically, react!
Extremely VIVID dreaming – This point is pretty self-explanatory, but a lot more serious than it sounds. The dreams are really vivid and almost life-like, as if you’re watching a film in IMAX! The dreamy visions can appear either when you’re waking up or when you’re just about to fall asleep and are quite frightening more often than not. These unwanted visions are often accompanied by sounds and noises that you might here just when you’re about to doze off and can kick start a trance of visuals that seem real, but aren’t.
Sleepless Nights – You’d think after reading whatever’s been mentioned above, that at least someone suffering from narcolepsy will be able to sleep soundly at night, but that’s definitely not the case! Though the patient may feel sleepy throughout the day and not be able to function because of the induced lethargy and weakness, they often experience sleepless nights. The vivid and scary dreams and visions tend to worsen the condition of sleeplessness. The sleepless nights in turn, result in worsening the day time sleepiness! It’s almost like an interconnected cycle that gets worse with passing time.
Narcolepsy is a disease that happens equally both between men and women. It starts developing between the ages of 10 to 25 but can take up to 12 years to fully develop!
This is NOT a condition to be taken lightly since it can affect your social interactions, your work life, your personal life and relationships, and more than anything your daily productivity and outcome!
It’s normal to feel sleepy during the day sometimes and doze off, but if your urge to sleep is tampering with your daily life and routine then it’s definitely not a condition that should be ignored. We’d suggest visiting a sleep specialist to get to the bottom of the situation and get treated.