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Narcolepsy - Symptoms

Symptoms of narcolepsy usually begin between the ages of 15 to 25, but it is possible start experiencing symptoms at a much younger or older age. The symptoms usually worsen after the first few years. You may experience the following:

Excessive daytime sleepiness

The primary symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness. You may feel tired during the day even though you had a full night’s sleep. This sleepiness is difficult to prevent and may vary over the course of the day. After a brief nap, you may feel alert, but the sleepiness will return after an hour or two.

Hallucinations

Some patients with narcolepsy have vivid hallucinations at sleep onset. These hypnagogic hallucinations are usually visions that someone or something is present in your bedroom. It can feel very real, and trigger feelings of fear or dread. Other common visions may include being caught in a fire or flying through the air. These experiences are mainly visual, though they may also involve your senses of sound, touch, taste and smell.

Sleep paralysis

You might lose the ability to move and feel paralyzed when you are falling asleep or waking up. This usually lasts a few seconds or minutes. This can be frightening, but it is not associated with an inability to breathe. Sleep paralysis can sometimes be paired with hallucinations, which are especially upsetting.

Disturbed nighttime sleep

About half of people with narcolepsy have problems sleeping through the night. You may wake up frequently and have difficulty falling back to sleep.

Memory problems

You may have trouble remembering things that people tell you because you were not fully awake at the time. Memory lapses also happen when sleepiness sets in as you are doing activities that do not require much thought.

Sudden loss in muscle tone (cataplexy)

This only occurs if you have narcolepsy with cataplexy. Cataplexy occurs when you have a sleep attack that is triggered by a strong emotion. This can happen when you are surprised, elated or even intimate with a partner. You may slur your speech or lose control of your limbs, or you may become completely paralyzed.

Narcolepsy with cataplexy is frequently linked to increased weight, sometimes obesity. It is possible to have narcolepsy along with another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or REM sleep behavior disorder.   

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