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Narcolepsy – Sleep Disorders: More than Meets the Eye
- Updated: August 19, 2014
Narcolepsy, commonly referred to as a sleep disorder, is actually very misunderstood. Most people envision an individual falling asleep unexpectedly and suddenly and while this is one aspect of the condition, there is a lot more that the public should know.
Unfortunately, many people with narcolepsy are misdiagnosed, often being diagnosed with some form of mental illness to include schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder. Even among those who do get a proper diagnosis, it can take 10 years or more to reach the proper conclusion.
While narcolepsy is in fact a sleep disorder, it is officially categorized as being an “autoimmune sleep disorder”, which changes the dynamics to a certain degree. Typically, symptoms of narcolepsy appear slowly and for most people, there is an overwhelming sense of fatigue during daytime hours. This alone is frustrating but for those operating heavy machinery or driving, the constant and intense fatigue can be extremely dangerous.
Along with feeling tired, it is common for people with narcolepsy to deal with a secondary condition known as cataplexy. With this, there is a sudden but also temporary loss of muscle strength brought on by certain emotions to include laughter, anger, and even surprise. ]
Depending on the individual and level of cataplexy, symptoms may last seconds and be mild or for a much longer time and to a greater intensity. Interestingly, some people are diagnosed with narcolepsy only after the effects of cataplexy had been identified.
While not everyone experiences the exact same things, there are those who also have hypnagogic hallucinations. This entails seeing clear images while falling asleep or upon awakening. Sleep paralysis is another complaint. For this, there is loss of muscle tone, again when going to sleep and waking up. There are even a select number of people who struggle with weight gain, double vision, and headaches.
No matter the symptoms or degree of intensity experienced, narcolepsy can be a very frustrating and frightening condition to live with. Recently, experts have joined forces to better educate the public as a means of removing the stigma surrounding narcolepsy. They want people to know there is much more to this condition beyond falling asleep quickly and without warning. Narcolepsy is a multifaceted disorder, again, making diagnosis difficult.