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Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a disabling sleep disorder that mixes the nervous system's messages about when to sleep and when to be awake. Narcolepsy usually starts during the teen years or early adulthood and continues throughout life.

Narcolepsy may cause:

  • Sudden sleep attacks. These may occur at any time during any type of activity, such as eating dinner, driving the car, or carrying on a conversation. These sleep attacks can occur several times a day and may last from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Sudden, brief periods of muscle weakness while a person is awake (cataplexy). The weakness may affect specific muscle groups or may affect the entire body. These periods of muscle weakness are often brought on by strong emotional reactions, such as laughing or crying.
  • Hallucinations just before a sleep attack.
  • Brief loss of the ability to move when a person is falling asleep or just waking up (sleep paralysis).

Medicines may help prevent sleep attacks and episodes of muscle weakness. But narcolepsy rarely goes away completely.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Last Revised June 17, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 17, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.