Do you fight to stay awake during the day? Is exhaustion part of your everyday life? If the urge to sleep is overwhelming and irresistible, it may be a sleep disorder called narcolepsy, a condition affecting approximately one in 2,000 people in the U.S. Narcolepsy is one of the most frequently diagnosed primary sleep disorders. However, it’s not always easy to recognize.
“There are five major symptoms of narcolepsy. Many of them can be confused with other medical conditions such as depression or epilepsy, making a narcolepsy diagnosis somewhat tricky,” says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, pulmonary and sleep specialist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “Approximately half of the people affected by narcolepsy remain undiagnosed. A diagnosis can take up to 10 years to receive. We need greater awareness of narcolepsy to help expedite the diagnosis process for patients.”
Everyone with narcolepsy has excessive daytime sleepiness. That’s when you feel tired all the time, making it hard to stay awake and alert throughout the day. It can be described as feeling fatigued or irritable, having difficulty concentrating, poor memory, or mood changes. Patients say it comes in waves, like a “sleep attack.” These can happen during unusual situations, such as in the middle of a meal, a conversation or bike ride.
There are five major symptoms, but you don’t need to experience them all to have narcolepsy.
1. Excessive daytime sleepiness: As discussed above, this is when you have an irresistible urge to sleep during the day.
2. Cataplexy: The weakening of muscles when you feel strong emotions like embarrassment, laughter, surprise, or anger. Cataplexy can cause your head to drop, your face to droop, your jaw to weaken, or make your knees give way.
3. Sleep disruption: When you often fall asleep quickly but wake up frequently throughout the night.
4. Sleep paralysis: Feeling unable to move or speak for a short time when falling asleep or waking up. You may also feel like you can’t breathe.
5. Vivid dreaming: Often frightening dreamlike experiences that seem real and happen when falling asleep or waking up. You may experience hearing sounds or words when drifting to sleep or have unwanted visions. Sleep paralysis often accompanies these vivid dreams.
Narcolepsy occurs equally as often in men and women. The symptoms often start between the ages of 10 and 25, but it can take up to 12 years for narcolepsy to fully develop. Narcolepsy is a debilitating disease, as it can cause difficulties at work, negatively impact social interactions, lower self-esteem, and create challenges performing everyday tasks. Contrary to popular belief, people with narcolepsy do not spend more time sleeping than the average person.
“It’s normal to feel tired sometimes,” Dr. Dasgupta says. “But if the urge to fall asleep is interfering with your job or personal life, it might be time to talk to a sleep specialist.”
For more information about narcolepsy and to take the symptom screener, visit MoreThanTired.com.
This content is provided by Jazz Pharmaceuticals.