What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

Symptoms of narcolepsy usually begin between the ages of 15 to 25, but they may start at a much younger or older age. The symptoms usually worsen after the first few years.

Narcolepsy symptoms may include:
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness: This is the main symptom of narcolepsy. You may feel tired during the day even though you had a full night’s sleep. This sleepiness is difficult to prevent and may vary over the course of the day. After a brief nap, you may feel alert, but the sleepiness will return after an hour or two.
  • Hallucinations: Some patients with narcolepsy have vivid hallucinations as they fall asleep. They are usually visions that someone or something is present in your bedroom. The hallucinations can feel very real, and trigger feelings of fear or dread. Other common visions may include being caught in a fire or flying through the air. The experiences are mainly visual, although they may also involve the sense of sound, touch, taste and smell.
  • Sleep paralysis: You might lose the ability to move when you are falling asleep or waking up. This usually lasts a few seconds or minutes. This paralysis can be frightening, but it is not associated with an inability to breathe. Sleep paralysis can sometimes go along with hallucinations, which can be especially upsetting.
  • Disturbed nighttime sleep: About half of people with narcolepsy have problems sleeping through the night. You may wake up frequently and have difficulty falling back to sleep.
  • Memory problems: You may have trouble remembering things that people tell you because you were not fully awake at the time. Memory lapses also happen when you are sleepy and doing activities that do not require much thought.
  • Sudden loss in muscle tone (cataplexy): This symptom only occurs if you have narcolepsy with cataplexy.
Many symptoms of narcolepsy mimic what you experience while in the REM stage of sleep. The main symptom of narcolepsy is uncontrollable fatigue during the day. If you have narcolepsy, you regularly feel very sleepy during the daytime, and you may even fall asleep from one to several times a day. Sufferers may also have episodes of sudden muscle weakness, which is known as cataplexy. Cataplexy is sometimes triggered by experiencing extreme emotions. People with narcolepsy may also have sleep paralysis in which they are unable to move or speak for a short time after awakening. Some sufferers also report vivid hallucinations. Many have sleep disturbances at night. Most people who have narcolepsy do not exhibit all of these symptoms.

One of the main symptoms of narcolepsy is extreme sleepiness during the day. A person with narcolepsy may also have symptoms when falling asleep or waking up in which they are unable to move their bodies. This is called sleep paralysis and may continue for seconds or minutes. They may also have vivid dreams. One of the most intense symptoms of narcolepsy is called cataplexy. During an attack of cataplexy, the person is awake and alert, but may develop sudden muscle weakness and actually fall down if standing. Cataplexy often occurs at times of strong emotion. Another symptom of narcolepsy is hallucinations (dreaming while falling asleep or waking up). If they occur as you fall asleep, they're called hypnagogic hallucinations; if they occur as you wake up, they are called hypnopompic hallucinations. These symptoms can be very upsetting and frightening before they are properly diagnosed.

Narcolepsy is a condition characterized by sudden sleep attacks during the day. Individuals with narcolepsy may fall asleep at inappropriate times and without warning several times a day. Other symptoms that may appear alone or in combination months or years after the daytime sleep attacks begin include:
  • Cataplexy
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations
The development, severity and order of appearance of narcoleptic symptoms vary, and not all people with the disorder experience all four symptoms. While excessive daytime sleepiness generally persists throughout life, sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations may not. The symptoms of narcolepsy, especially the excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, may cause serious disruptions to personal and professional life and severely limit activities.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.