Overview of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy affects an estimated 25 in every 100,000 people in the United States. This sleep disorder is primarily characterized by intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime.

Three additional symptoms are typically associated with narcolepsy: cataplexy (short-lived intermittent muscle weakness), hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations (hallucinations while falling asleep or waking), and sleep paralysis (paralysis while falling asleep or waking).

Narcolepsy usually begins when a person is in their teens or early twenties. Stimulants and antidepressants are used to treat narcolepsy and subsequent cataplexy. Although it has been linked with blood pressure management and depression, the genesis of narcolepsy is unknown. However, recent advances in narcolepsy study suggest the possibility of a cure.

Incidence of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy usually begins in the teens or early twenties (10 to 20 years old), but this varies; both young children and the elderly experience sleep attacks as well. Approximately 125,000 people in the United States alone suffer from this disorder, with an equal incidence among both women and men. Excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden sleep onset are the hallmarks of narcolepsy.

Whether narcolepsy is a life-long disorder or not is controversial. Some evidence suggests that it is, while other studies have shown that symptoms fade in older age.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 30 Nov 2000

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015