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What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and in some cases episodes of partial or total loss of muscle control.

Narcolepsy occurs equally in men and women and is thought to affect roughly 1 in 3,000 people. The symptoms appear in childhood or adolescence, but many people have symptoms of narcolepsy for years before getting a proper diagnosis. If left undiagnosed and untreated, early onset narcolepsy can interfere with psychological, social, and cognitive function and development and can undermine academic and social activities.

People with narcolepsy feel very sleepy during the day and may involuntarily fall asleep during normal activities. In narcolepsy, the normal boundary between awake and asleep is blurred, so characteristics of sleeping can occur while a person is awake. In addition to daytime sleepiness, other major symptoms may include cataplexy (a sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone while awake that makes a person go limp or unable to move).

People with narcolepsy can also experience dream-like hallucinations and paralysis as they are falling asleep or waking up, as well as disrupted nighttime sleep and vivid nightmares.


  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)

  • Cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone while the person is awake that leads to feelings of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control)

  • Sleep paralysis

  • Hallucinations

  • Disrupted nocturnal sleep

  • Obesity


Currently there is no cure for narcolepsy, but medications and behavioral treatments can improve symptoms for people so they can lead normal, productive lives.

Narcolepsy is diagnosed by a physical exam, taking a medical history, as well as conducting sleep studies. If you do have narcolepsy, the most effective treatment is often a combination of medications and behavioral changes.

Enhance sleep quality

  • maintain a regular sleep schedule—go to bed and wake up at the same time every day

  • avoid alcohol and caffeine-containing beverages for several hours before bedtime

  • avoid large, heavy meals just before bedtime

  • avoid smoking, especially at night

  • maintain a comfortable, adequately warmed bedroom environment

  • engage in relaxing activities such as a warm bath before bedtime

*Exercising for at least 20 minutes per day at least 4 or 5 hours before bedtime also improves sleep quality and can help people with narcolepsy avoid gaining excess weight.

To learn more about narcolepsy visit: or to schedule an appointment with one of our board certified neurologists or sleep study call 910-295-6868 or visit us online at

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