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Narcolepsy is one of the more severe and potentially dangerous forms of sleep disorders. It occurs when a patient’s body is unable to properly regulate its sleep cycles. As a result, a person suffering from narcolepsy can experience spontaneous episodes of sleep at any time, especially during the daytime, without forewarning or without particular feelings of tiredness leading up to sleep.

About Sleep Cycles

In order to understand narcolepsy, it’s first helpful to understand a normal sleep cycle. A typical sleep cycle consists of four stages of NREM, or non-rapid eye movement sleep, and then progresses into REM, or rapid eye movement sleep.

  • Stage 1 of NREM sleep consists of light sleep in which the sleeper can be awakened easily
  • Stage 2 begins as light sleep and progresses into a deeper state of sleep
  • Stage 3 is an even deeper stage of NREM sleep
  • Stage 4 is the deepest

About an hour and a half into the NREM sleep cycle is when REM sleep normally occurs. This is the state of sleep in which dreaming takes place, and is often marked by increased brain activity and muscle tension.

Symptoms and Effects

In a person with narcolepsy, instead of progressing through the stages of NREM sleep before REM sleep, REM sleep occurs almost instantly and at any time during the day. This poses real dangers to the person suffering with narcolepsy as well as to those within his or her environment, as instantaneous sleep can occur during conversation, while driving, at work, while caring for others – the possibilities and situations are infinite. Other symptoms and effects of narcolepsy include the uncontrollable urge to fall asleep, no matter the time of day, as well as extreme muscle weakness when surprised or laughing.

Not only can bouts of narcolepsy create potentially harmful situations, but those who experience narcolepsy often attempt to self-regulate the disorder through excessive coffee consumption, other caffeinated beverages or stimulants in order to stay awake, which can cause a variety of additional health issues.

Diagnosis and Treatment

At the Fisher-Titus Sleep Center, our highly qualified and experienced staff and physicians recognize the importance of diagnosing and treating disorders such as narcolepsy, and urge those who experience symptoms to consult their physician and see how the Sleep Center can help. Upon diagnosis of narcolepsy, treatments to aid in controlling the disorder typically include medication and behavioral therapy. Medications are used to help increase alertness and reduce sleepiness during daytime hours, while behavioral therapy can be used to help deal with the symptoms, such as establishing routine rest times and avoiding lifestyle choices which may trigger or contribute to episodes of sleep throughout the day.