A lot of misconception exists around the neurological disorder known as narcolepsy. However, medical professionals believe that narcolepsy occurs due to a deficiency in hypocretin, a brain chemical that impacts the wake and sleep cycles, including REM sleep. Impacted sleep and waking cycles inevitably leading to extreme fatigue, loss of focus and memory, and even hallucinations.
Narcoleptics tend to suffer what’s known as sleep attacks, or intermittent, uncontrollable spurts where the patient can suddenly fall asleep in the midst of an activity (i.e., eating or driving). Sadly, a large majority of narcoleptics are undiagnosed and remain untreated. For a narcolepsy diagnosis, a patient must present one of the following 4 symptoms, which can range from mild to extreme. Keep in mind that only one third of all narcoleptic patients exhibit all 4 of the following symptoms:
1. Severe tiredness
The most prominent symptom associated with narcolepsy is without a doubt extreme fatigue and sleepiness. However, most narcolepsy patients don’t just suddenly fall asleep in the middle of a work meeting or meal. However, in cases where extreme sleepiness is extreme, a patient may lose focus, memory, display symptoms of lethargy, mental fog, and even go into “automatic behavior”, where the patient continues the action for a few seconds or minutes, but mobility appears poor or clumsy. Narcoleptics who experience automatic behavior usually don’t remember.
2. Hallucinations and sleep paralysis
Narcoleptics can also suffer scary symptoms like sleep paralysis and hallucinations, both while awake, when falling asleep, or upon waking up. Sleep paralysis is a terrifying occurrence that results in totally (i.e., speaking or moving) while the patient is completely aware of what’s going on around them. Sleep paralysis can strike for durations of a few seconds or minutes. Hallucinations can be equally terrifying for a narcoleptic. These tend to occur at the point of waking or falling asleep, and result in if they are vivid, lifelike dreams with full awareness of the senses where (sight, hearing, smell, feeling, and even taste) are present.
In addition to sudden sleepiness, a form of muscle weakness known as cataplexy is common for narcoleptics during wakeful hours. Cataplexy can affect specific muscles (i.e., weak knees or weak hand grasp) or it can strike the entire body causing the patient to lose all muscle control and fall to the ground. Cataplexy episodes are believed to be emotional, meaning they can strike if the patient experiences severe surprise, fear, anger, or even laughter.
4. Associated narcolepsy symptoms
Severe disturbances in a narcoleptics sleep and waking cycles will inevitably lead to further symptoms—including restless slumber, insomnia, daytime fatigue, lack of memory and focus, and even depression.