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What Is Narcolepsy?
last updated:
Wed, 1/02/2013 1:13 PM

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that causes a potentially disabling level of daytime sleepiness. This sleepiness may occur in the form of repeated and irresistible “sleep attacks.” In these episodes a person suddenly falls asleep in unusual situations, such as while eating, walking or driving. Narcolepsy affects less than one percent of men and women, typically appearing in teens and young adults and then persisting for a lifetime. 

Sleepiness in narcolepsy is not the result of inadequate sleep; people with narcolepsy still experience daytime sleepiness even when they sleep well at night. Sleepiness is more likely to occur in boring, monotonous situations that require no active participation (such as watching television). If not recognized and appropriately managed, narcolepsy can drastically and negatively affect the quality of a person’s life.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

The main symptoms associated with narcolepsy are:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness - usually the first symptom to appear in people who have narcolepsy.
  • Cataplexy - a sudden loss of muscle tone, usually triggered by emotional stimuli such as laughter, surprise, or anger.
  • Hypnogogic hallucinations - during transition from wakefulness to sleep, the patient has bizarre, often frightening dream-like experiences that incorporate his or her real environment.
  • Sleep paralysis - a temporary inability to move during sleep-wake transitions. Sleep paralysis may last for a few seconds to several minutes and may accompany hypnagogic hallucinations.
  • Disturbed nocturnal sleep – waking up repeatedly throughout the night.
  • Leg jerks, nightmares, and restlessness.


Narcolepsy cannot be cured. Symptoms can usually be controlled or improved so that sufferers experience symptoms less frequently and lead fairly normal lives. Treatment plans have several aspects: medication, behavior treatment, and management of your environment.

If you believe you may have narcolepsy, inform your primary care physician or make an appointment for an evaluation with a Sleep Specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center. To find a physician in Memphis or Olive Branch that specializes in sleep disorders, please call 901.683.0044. 


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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000