Types of Narcolepsy: What You Might Not Know About The Different Types of Narcolepsy in an Overview

Narcolepsy is an intrusive sleeping disorder that is currently affecting around 200,000 American people. Narcolepsy is one of medical science’s most unique sleeping disorders. Not only is Narcolepsy itself an odd and interesting disorder, it comes as a package deal with various other unique medical problems like Cataplexy, hallucinations, Automatic Behavior, and even Sleep Paralysis. Patients who have been diagnosed with the disorder should learn about all types of Narcolepsy, and undiagnosed patients who may be suffering should study Narcolepsy and its different types.

The Different Types of Narcolepsy

Technically, there are not different types of Narcolepsy. Unlike other sleep disorders like Sleep Apnea, there is not a central and an obstructive classification. Narcolepsy is the same in all patients who suffer from its symptoms. The disorder is defined as the uncontrollable urge to sleep at inappropriate times during the day; this is absolutely true in all patients with Narcolepsy, so technically, there is one medically recognized type of the disorder.

More often than not, however, most Narcolepsy patients experience at least one or more complicated disorders in addition to their Narcolepsy. The majority of narcoleptics also suffer from one of the following four complications: Cataplexy, Hypnagogic Hallucinations, Automatic Behavior, and Sleep Paralysis.

Narcolepsy with Cataplexy

Only three million people in the entire world suffer from some type/degree of Narcolepsy. Out of those three million people, only two percent also suffer from Cataplexy. Cataplexy is thought to be unique to Narcolepsy patients, and is often one of the disorder’s primary identifiers; it is often associated with other Narcolepsy symptoms like Sleep Paralysis and hallucinations.

Cataplexy is defined as the sudden loss of muscle tone and strength coupled with severe daytime sleepiness. The sudden loss of muscle strength can be mild or severe. In mild Cataplexy episodes, there may only be a small portion of muscle on the body that becomes paralyzed. In opposition, severe episodes of Cataplexy can leave the entire body unable to move or speak for several minutes at a time. These sudden changes in muscle tone are often triggered by the patient’s witnessing of a strong emotional response.

Laughter, crying, and shouting are some of the most common triggers in people with this type of Narcolepsy.

Cataplexy is extremely dangerous, and is one the leading causes for accidents, especially automobile accidents. Because Narcolepsy patients are unable to determine when an episode of Cataplexy will occur, there Cataplexy victims often live in constant fear of witnessing a trigger and embarrassing themselves in public.

Narcolepsy with Hallucinations

Unlike the rare Cataplexy, this type of Narcolepsy is extremely common. Patients who suffer from Narcolepsy are at a high risk for experiencing Hypnagogic Hallucinations; in fact, hallucinations are one of the disorder’s most commonly recognizable symptoms. Where Cataplexy is only present in two percent of all Narcolepsy patients across the world, as many as fifty percent of all narcoleptics are thought to suffer from Hypnagogic Hallucinations.

There are two main types of hallucinations: Hypnagogic Hallucinations and Hypnopompic Hallucinations. Hypnagogic Hallucinations occur during the transitional period that takes place when the brain is shifting from a place of wakefulness to one of sleep. Hypnopompic Hallucinations, on the other hand, are the opposite; these hallucinations occur when the body is shifting from a place of sleep to one of wakefulness. Hypnagogic Hallucinations are seen in this type of Narcolepsy, and can be extremely vivid.

Patients who also suffer from Hypnagogic Hallucinations experience intense dream-like visions when they are falling asleep. Many Hypnagogic Hallucinations incorporate various images that actually present in the sleeper’s environment into vivid hallucinations. These hallucinations can involve the manipulation of the patient’s vision, hearing, sense of touch, sense of balance, and even their ability to move. Many Narcolepsy patients who suffer from the hallucinations describe them as bizarre, and even frightening. Because the hallucinations are so realistic, patients become afraid of them; many patients even fear the hallucinations as a sign of mental instability.

Narcolepsy with Automatic Behavior

One of the most interesting, and consequently dangerous, types of Narcolepsy includes symptoms of Automatic Behavior. Often confused with sleep walking, Automatic Behavior refers to the continuation of an activity that was taking place while before falling asleep after falling asleep. In many cases, Automatic Behavior occurs when patients with this type of Narcolepsy attempt to fight off sleepiness in an effort to complete an activity. For example, patients who suffer from this type of Narcolepsy may suddenly fall asleep while washing the dishes. Instead of dropping the plate they were holding when they suddenly fell asleep, patients with Automatic behavior continue washing the plate as if they remained awake.

Although Narcolepsy patients with Automatic Behavior continue performing the activity while unconscious, they have absolutely no memory of the even upon wakening; the event is out of conscious control. Unconscious periods of continued behavior can last anywhere from a few short seconds to as long as half an hour. Patients who experience this unique disorder often wake up in strange places disoriented and frightened. Automatic Behavior becomes a serious and dangerous problem when it occurs during dangerous activities like driving or cooking.

Automatic Behavior, also called automatism, is not unique to Narcolepsy types. It is a common symptom of many different psychiatric and neurological disorders. Schizophrenia and Fugue are common psychiatric disorders that are associated with Automatic behavior.

Narcolepsy with Sleep Paralysis

Although it is possible to see symptoms of Sleep Paralysis in patients plagued with disorders other than Narcolepsy, Sleep Paralysis is most commonly associated with this form of Narcolepsy. In addition to Cataplexy and hallucinations, Sleep Paralysis, which can also be called Isolated Sleep Paralysis, completes the trio of famous Narcolepsy identifiers (in addition to daytime sleepiness, of course).

Narcoleptics who suffer from Sleep Paralysis experience periods on paralysis, either when going to sleep or upon wakening. During an attack of Sleep Paralysis, the victim is completely unable to move voluntarily, and must wait for the attack to pass. Although Sleep Paralysis is passing, and not physically harmful, it can still be terrifying and stressful to try and deal with on top of Narcolepsy’s other problems and complications.

While most Narcolepsy cases contain varying levels of each of these four symptoms, every patient’s case it unique. In most cases, one symptom is more prevalent than the others.

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