What Is Narcolepsy?

Sleepy Woman

Story at-a-glance -

  • The name "narcolepsy" was adapted from the Greek words "narko-" and "-lepsis," which roughly translate to "to overtake with numbness"
  • Narcolepsy is a sleeping disorder wherein patients have a hard time controlling the urge to sleep

Narcolepsy is a hypersomnia disorder that is usually characterized by increased sleepiness, tiredness and uncontrollable sleep attacks. The name “narcolepsy” was adapted from the Greek words “narkosis” and “lepsis,” which together roughly translates to “to overtake with numbness.” It was first coined by Jean-Baptiste-Edouard Gelinéau in 1880 when he was describing a condition where a patient is gripped by excessive daytime sleepiness and muscle weakness triggered by heightened emotions.1

But what does having narcolepsy really mean? This is actually a sleeping disorder wherein patients have a hard time controlling the urge to sleep. Narcolepsy can drastically affect different facets of the patient’s life. People suffering from this sleeping disorder may suffer from brain fog, absentmindedness and even hallucinations. Due to the serious implications of this disorder, the health of the individual, relationships, social and work life may be heavily affected.2

Unfortunately, narcolepsy is permanent and lifelong. While symptoms may be minimized through treatment, patients will live with the condition for the rest of their lives.

Common Misconceptions About Narcolepsy

In media and popular culture, narcolepsy is portrayed to be amusing, and is nothing more than a humorous disorder. Because of this erroneous portrayal and stereotyping, misconceptions have plagued the condition for the longest time. Some of these myths include:

Narcoleptics keel over at random times of the day. The media often presents narcoleptics as comedic characters that collapse mid-sentence. While 50 percent of patients are affected by a sudden weakness in their muscles called cataplexy, there are specific triggers or stimuli, such as laughter, that usually make this happen. The severity of this symptom also varies across the population.3

They are lazy or unmotivated.4This may have come from the idea that narcoleptics are always sleepy and usually require short naps throughout the day. Laziness isn’t a factor for this tiredness. It’s mainly caused by the body’s inability to regulate and promote a normal sleep cycle.

It’s not a serious or dangerous condition.5Claims that narcolepsy is not a severe problem may be due to the lack of disseminated information about it. Narcolepsy can lead to accidents and even fatal mishaps, which may affect both the patient and people surrounding him or her.

The Different Types of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy can be divided into two main categories: narcolepsy with cataplexy and narcolepsy without cataplexy. The third kind, secondary narcolepsy, is a rare case that can be triggered by other external factors.6

Narcolepsy without cataplexy. This is characterized by constant sleepiness, tiredness and fatigue. Patients with this condition can take naps and feel refreshed, but the sleepiness returns after a short period of time.

Narcolepsy with cataplexy. Cataplexy, or the sudden onset of muscle weakness, is the determining factor for this category of narcolepsy. The symptoms are the same, but with the additional burden of sudden loss of muscle control, often leading to slurred speech, buckling knees or even complete paralysis. This is often triggered by extreme emotions such as anger, surprise or laughter.

Secondary narcolepsy. This type is often caused by severe trauma to the hypothalamus. It can also be caused by radiation exposure, multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative conditions. Aside from the typical symptoms of narcolepsy, this is accompanied by severe neurological problems.7

MORE ABOUT NARCOLEPSY

Narcolepsy: Introduction

What Is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy Symptoms

Narcolepsy Causes

Narcolepsy Test

Narcolepsy Treatment

Narcolepsy Prevention

Narcolepsy Diet

Narcolepsy FAQ

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