Narcolepsy is a rare nervous system disorder that is chronic and can last lifelong too. It affects the quality of life of a person by causing abnormal sleep patterns. The signs and symptoms of this condition can begin anywhere between 10 to 25 years. The symptoms may develop slowly over a period of time or can suddenly be visible within a few weeks. Everyone who has been diagnosed with narcolepsy may not face the same signs and symptoms. The four prominent signs and symptoms of narcolepsy are:
- Sleep attacks
One of the most common symptoms among people who have been diagnosed with narcolepsy is recurrent sleep attacks. The person diagnosed falls sleep suddenly, without any warnings. The length of a sleep attack differs from person-to-person. Some people sleep for several minutes while others may just have microsleep that lasts for a few seconds. Sleep attacks can happen several times in a day if narcolepsy is not kept well in control.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
One of the primary sign of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness. This tends to have a significant impact on the life of the person diagnosed. Finding it difficult to stay awake and feeling drowsy all day long can make it extremely difficult for one to be focused in school or work. People with narcolepsy are often misjudged by others as lazy or rude.
- Sleep paralysis
Episodes of sleep paralysis are experienced by people who have been diagnosed with narcolepsy. When one is falling asleep or waking up, a temporary inability to speak or move is experienced. The episode can last anywhere between a few seconds to even several minutes. Even though there is no harm as such caused due to sleep paralysis, being unable to move can be extremely frightening for a person.
Cataplexy is a common symptom that is experienced by most people who have been diagnosed with narcolepsy. It leads to loss of muscular control and sudden, temporary muscle weakness. The head slumping down, slurred speech, jaw-dropping, legs collapsing uncontrollably, finding it difficult to focus, or double vision are some of the typical symptoms experienced. An emotion like anger, surprise, laughter, or excitement, usually triggers cataplexy. Some people diagnosed with narcolepsy experience cataplexy several times a day while others may experience once or twice a year only. Some people may become socially isolated or emotionally withdrawn in an attempt to avoid attacks.
Apart from the symptoms mentioned above, the other symptoms one may experience while being diagnosed with narcolepsy are-
- Memory problems, headaches, and depression
- Hallucinations- hearing or seeing things that are not real, specifically while waking up or going to sleep. One of the most common hallucinations is a presence in the bedroom.
- Automatic behavior- This happens when the person diagnosed with narcolepsy continues with activity without having any recollection of the same later.
- Restless sleep- Restless sleep is also one of the symptoms that vary from person to person. One may wake up frequently, have hot flushes, may physically act out dreams, or have vivid nightmares also.