Narcolepsy Type I is a disorder primarily characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness as well as signs of a stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement sleep persisting into wakefulness, the most specific of which is cataplexy. Cataplexy refers to a brief sudden loss of muscle tone during which time the patient is awake. Excessive daytime sleepiness is the cardinal symptom, and often the most disabling. Patients experience repeated daily episodes of an irresistible need to sleep. Most episodes of sleep are relatively short, from which the patent generally awakens feeling refreshed, only to feel sleepy again after variable intervals of wakefulness. Episodes of sleep paralysis and/or hallucinations upon falling asleep or awakening from sleep are considered auxiliary symptoms of Narcolepsy and can be part of the presenting symptoms. Complaints of difficulty maintaining sleep are also often part of the presenting symptomatology.
Sleepiness is most likely to occur in monotonous situations that require no active participation such as watching television or riding as a passenger in a car. Physical activity can temporarily suppress the urge to sleep. Even when seemingly awake, many narcoleptics manifest lapses in vigilance, sometimes in combination with automatic behavior such as writing gibberish or interrupting a conversation with a completely different topic. Cataplexy is most often triggered by sudden changes in sensory and/or emotional activation, as during a surprising change in sensory stimulation and/or upon laughter. Narcolepsy generally seriously compromises the patient’s ability to function in educational, occupational, and social situations.
Fortunately treatments exist for Type I Narcolepsy, as well as for Type II Narcolepsy, the latter type manifesting excessive sleepiness but not cataplexy. From our McAllen and Weslaco sleep clinic sites, our Sleep Specialist staff will provide a specific program of action generally comprised of medication and behavioral treatments to help you gain better control over your excessive sleepiness and/or your sleep attacks/cataplexy episodes. The treatments will help you to sleep better at night and to stay awake during the day, enabling better function in all of your day-to-day situations and environments.