Narcolepsy: Why It Happens


The first and foremost question that crops up while going through this topic is what is Narcolepsy?  In short, Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes extreme weakness of body muscles resulting in sleepiness throughout the odd hours of the day-even in the midst of a hectic work.
The specialty of this particular decease is that it has nothing to do with any psychological problem and hence, it’s seen that the patient’s social awareness and their ability to respond – as well as their auditory capacity – remain more or less unaffected.

Mild Narcolepsy Symptoms

The primary way to identify a Narcolepsy patient is through the occurrence of Cataplexy, which is a sudden muscle fatigue resulting in strong emotional outburst. Though there are exceptions, it is generally true that up to 70% of Narcolepsy patients also suffer from Cataplexy.

Apart from Cataplexy, the main characteristic of a Narcolepsy patient is falling asleep or feeling drowsy all through the day, even after a sound sleep in the night.
It’s quite common that a patient with Narcolepsy falls asleep in trains and buses, thereby missing the stops. They often fall asleep even while driving their cars, resulting in fatal accidents. There have been instances when a patient has fallen asleep in a dentist’s chamber and have to be shaken awake by the dentist. The more these things occur, the more the patient goes into a social cocoon, withdrawing themselves from the social activities and hence needing immediate medical attention.

This phenomenon is regarded as Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS). Almost 90% of the Narcolepsy patients suffer from this disorder. Other common symptoms are hypnagogic hallucinations. Almost 30% of patients are recorded to suffer from this particular symptom. This particular symptom is attributed to certain dreamy visions those a patient witnesses at the moment of falling asleep. Though one school of thought tends to give certain super-natural angles to this phenomenon, extensive research has shown the exact reason behind this is othing more than a hypnagogic hallucination.

Narcolepsy sufferers also often complain of acute disturbance of sleep during night; some secondary symptoms such as blurred or double vision and dropping eyelids are also very common. Another very common symptom, present in almost 25% of Narcolepsy cases is a condition called Sleep Paralysis. A patient with this particular symptom cannot talk or even move when they are falling asleep or awaking from sleep. This may last anywhere from few seconds to as many as several minutes.
Though in general, Narcolepsy patients have sound sleep at night, there have been certain cases, where a patient has prolonged period of sleeplessness during night, with increased heart rate, occurrence of hot flashes and at certain instances acute alertness for hardly any reason. It’s also often seen that the Narcolepsy patients fall asleep faster than normal, and may get up after hearing an almost inaudible noise.

While a normal person takes about one and a half hour of sleep on an average to see dreams, a Narcolepsy patient can see dreams instantly. As a result of this Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is also a unique feature of a Narcolepsy patient during sleep.  At times this REM can be extremely rapid and abnormal.

The most important phenomenon about Narcolepsy is that except for daytime sleepiness, the other symptoms do not affect the patient to a large extent. Hence, those patients who do not have daytime sleepiness may not seek much medical help, thus hindering a conclusive diagnosis.

It can be mentioned that the symptoms of Narcolepsy may remain hidden for many years. In fact, there are cases where Narcolepsy has been diagnosed after as many as ten years of suffering from the symptoms of the condition. Almost 50% of the adult Narcolepsy patients coming for diagnosis have recorded to have been affected by the disease between 15 and 30 years of age.


In spite of extensive research being conducted all over the world, the exact cause of this particular disease is yet to be recognized. One school of thought claims that Narcolepsy is related to a genetic disorder that exists in the history of a family. It’s believed that up to 10% of all Narcolepsy patients had someone else in their families with the condition.

Another school of thought states that Narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease. In these cases, the immune system of the human body produces cytokines more that what is needed for the human body. This affects the immunity system of the body resulting in a series of disorders of various kinds. In this train of thought, researchers believe that the Narcolepsy condition itself may attack those cells which contain brain peptide hypocretin (orexin). This results in certain deficiencies those are the major factors responsible for this disease.

One striking phenomenon that is generally noticed in patients with Narcolepsy is that they contain very low levels of Hypocretin in their body. Though we do not know what exactly causes the damage of the Hypocretin cells, it may be the result of an infection.

Some say that the exact reason of this disease can be a particular type of infection that affects the genetic order. Certain hormonal changes at different stages of life, the environment of the patient, the stress of day-to-day life can also be responsible. A recent study has come out with startling results, though. Almost all the patients of Narcolepsy are recorded to carry HLA-DR15 and HLA-DQ6 gene. Hence, it can be said these gene are more susceptible to Narcolepsy than the others. With research in genetics reaching newer heights and gene mapping already in vogue, we can expect the disease to be eradicated sooner than later.

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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