Narcolepsy is a life-long neurological illness, primarily characterized by sudden muscle weakness, persistent daytime sleepiness and/or vivid dreams.

Narcolepsy affects 250,000 - 400,000 Americans and symptoms may arise as early as the onset of puberty and continue throughout life. Narcolepsy may be hereditary, and a child with a parent having narcolepsy has a one in twenty chance of being affected. Symptoms may vary from mild to totally disabling and may appear suddenly or gradually over a period of years. With narcolepsy, a person's entire lifestyle is dominated by

excessive sleepiness resulting in a constant battle to remain awake. Sudden uncontrollable episodes may occur at any time or during any activity, such as driving, eating or talking. Concentration and memory recall may be greatly restricted by excessive daytime sleepiness and limited daytime alertness. Secondary psychological problems may become serious causing severe depression for the narcoleptic who feels misunderstood and alone in his/her sleepy world.


Excessive daytime sleepiness, despite a full night's sleep, may include constant fatigue and dullness of the mind.

Uncontrollable urges to sleep,
lasting from minutes to hours, may occur suddenly at inappropriate times when one should normally be alert.

Automatic behavior
refers to doing tasks, usually routine in nature, without conscious thinking. Later, the person is unable to recall details of having done these tasks.

Sleep paralysis
refers to the inability to move upon falling asleep or waking up. The person is conscious of not being able to move body parts, but is aware of his/her surroundings.

is a sudden loss of muscle tone or muscle weakness usually triggered by emotions such as laughter, anger, fear or surprise. It affects 60% - 90% of all narcoleptics. An attack may range from a brief experience of muscle weakness (sagging jaws or knee buckling) to profound loss of muscle tone resulting in total body collapse. During the attack, the person remains conscious but unable to speak or regain physical control for a brief period of time (a few seconds to several minutes).

Hypnagogic hallucinations
are very vivid dream-like experiences occurring between wakefullness and sleep. Hallucinations can involve some or all of the human senses, making it difficult to distinguish them from reality. Accompanied with sleep paralysis, an individual may experience a terrifying nightmare, often feeling the inability to escape from a frightening object (such as dreaming of a home intruder but being unable to call for help).


Treatment is available. Narcolepsy can be properly diagnosed by monitoring an individual's sleep at an accredited sleep center. Even though narcolepsy is a life-long illness, the symptoms for most narcoleptics can be managed with a careful balance of medications, educational support and sleep hygiene. By understanding and accepting the sleepy nature of this disorder, narcoleptics can adjust their lifestyles to maximize their daily alertness and lead as full a life as possible.