Narcolepsy Facts, an Overview

Most people have some idea what Narcolepsy is- they’ve seen a movie, or a funny cartoon with a caricature of a narcoleptic. These sleep sufferers are often depicted as clumsy, unintelligent, or unreliable. Unfortunately, this poor stereotypical depiction of Narcolepsy patients is just about the only public exposure most everyday Americans get to the mysterious disorder.

Although Narcolepsy is often laughed at in movies or in public, few people actually understand the disorder. Outside of narcoleptic patients, and the circle of people in their lives, not much attention is paid to sleeping disorders growing up. Most people are so ready to laugh at someone else because they are a little different, and as a result, they miss the chance to gain some insight and become educated on a new lifestyle.

Important Facts about Narcolepsy

Like many other sleeping disorders, Narcolepsy is not as rare as most people think; it’s just not a subject publicly discussed on a regular basis.

  •  Narcolepsy is a life-long sleeping disorder that is currently affecting 1 out of every 2000 people in the United States.
  •  Worldwide, Narcolepsy affects about three million adults.
  •  People who suffer from Narcolepsy have a very hard time maintaining wakefulness, and they often feel groggy or moody in the middle of the day. This is especially common during activities that cause that patient to experience a heightened emotional response.
  •  Two percent of narcoleptics worldwide experience a dangerous, rare complication of Narcolepsy, Cataplexy. Patients with Cataplexy experience a total loss of muscle tone and control suddenly, often in the middle of dangerous activities. Cataplexy events are usually triggered by the patient’s exposure to strong emotional responses. Patients with Narcolepsy and Cataplexy experience attacks that are often triggered by one of the following emotional responses:
  1. Laughing
  2. Crying
  3. Yelling
  4. Fighting
  5. Screaming
  •  Most people who suffer from Narcolepsy will go their entire lives without a proper medical diagnosis. Of the 200,000 Americans that are thought to have Narcolepsy, less than 50,000 of them have ever been diagnosed as a result of lacking Narcolepsy information.
  •  Narcolepsy is commonly misdiagnosed as Depression or Insomnia because the abnormal sleep patterns that are associated with Narcolepsy often cause symptoms mimicking the other two.
  •  When patients with Narcolepsy fall asleep, they enter the deepest stage of sleep, the REM stage, within the first ten minutes of sleep. Normal sleepers don’t enter the REM stage for at least ninety minutes.

Narcolepsy Facts and Information Regarding Age, Race and Gender

  •  The first signs of Narcolepsy usually manifest themselves in patients during their teenage or adolescent years.
  •  Males and females are equally likely to develop Narcolepsy.
  •  The severity of each patient’s individual Narcolepsy case is unique to them; severity varies from person to person.
  •  There is no cure for Narcolepsy; the disorder’s symptoms and complications can, however, be managed and treated.
  •  Children suffering from Narcolepsy, especially when coupled with Cataplexy, have a high risk for learning disabilities, hyperactivity disorders, and potentially problems growing.

Information about Narcolepsy and Lifestyle

  •  Adults who suffer from Narcolepsy are ten times more likely to get into an automobile accident than drivers who are non-narcoplectics.
  •  Many narcoleptics engage in Automatic Behavior. The patient continues to perform whatever physical activity that was taking place the moment the suddenly fell asleep. Patients who experience automatic behavior participate completely in the physical activity as if they were fully aware of the event, but upon wakening, they have no memory of falling asleep or participating in the activity. At least 30% of patients with Narcolepsy suffer from Automatic Behavioral conditions.
  •  Working a third shift (AKA night shift or graveyard shift) job can heighten your risk of developing Narcolepsy. At the very least, it will add to your already high levels of daytime sleepiness.
  •  Short naps throughout the day can help Narcolepsy patients cope with their fatigue. Napping too much, however, will have the opposite affect. Be responsible; take two or three naps a day lasting no longer than ten to fifteen minutes.

Facts and Information about Narcolepsy and Genetics

The development of Narcolepsy is one of the hardest events to predict in patients. There are very few facts that provide concrete information. Scientific research is currently trying to verify the location of a gene that may directly affect the development of Narcolepsy, but more testing is needed.

  •  Narcolepsy is a sleeping disorder that comes in two forms, sporadic and genetic. Because the disorder can be caused by breeding, and because it can randomly show up, it can be difficult to predict whether or not you will develop the disorder.
  •  There is no underlying psychological, emotional, or metal cause for Narcolepsy development. The disorder is purely neurological; it’s a problem with the brain, not the mind.
  •  Around eight to ten percent of all Narcolepsy patients have an immediate relative who also suffer from the disorder.
  •  Although genetics may be a cause of Narcolepsy, scientists doubt that a single problem could stem such a complex neurological disorder.

Interesting Information and Facts on Narcolepsy

  •  Human beings are not the only species to exhibit the signs and symptoms of Narcolepsy and Cataplexy. The symptoms of the neurological sleep disorder have also been observed in various animals, including dogs and horses.
  •  The first written documentation describing the disorder now called Narcolepsy was written by Jean-Babtiste Edouard Gelineau, a French physician, it the 1880s. In fact he coined the French term “narcolepsie” from which the current medical name is derived.
  •  Harriet Tubman, Winston Churchill, Jimmy Kimmel, and many other celebrities are narcoleptic.
  •  Although it is less well-known, Narcolepsy is just as common as M.S. (Multiple Sclerosis) or Parkinson’s disease. In fact Narcolepsy is more common than Cystic Fibrosis, but there is more Cystic Fibrosis awareness.
  •  Basic Narcolepsy fact sheets are available online.

If you, or anyone close to your heart, may be exhibiting the signs and symptoms of Narcolepsy, seek medical assistance. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of your disorder. Remember, it’s a neurological malfunction and you can’t change it. The more educated the public becomes on Narcolepsy the easier it will be for narcoleptic patients to feel comfortable.


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