What is Narcolepsy?


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterised by extreme excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep paralysis (unable to move during sleep), audio and visual sleep hallucinations and sometimes cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone and collapse when awake). Also an abnormally fast transition from wake-to-sleep and sleep-to-REM sleep.

The sleep-wake function in people with narcolepsy does not operate correctly. This leaves sufferers feeling unusually sleepy through the day, despite a sufficient amount of sleep through the night. In some cases individuals will fall asleep involuntarily at inappropriate and inopportune times such as at work, social events or even driving. Others individuals experience Cataplexy, where a significant decrease in muscle tone in times of extreme emotion (happiness, sadness, anger etc.) causes the body to become limp.

Chronic sleep deprivation (ie; lack of sleep or other outcomes of a pre-existing sleep disorder such as OSA) may appear to be Narcolepsy due to the similarity of symptoms. It is therefore imperative narcolepsy only be diagnosed after first ruling out any other sleep disorder.

An attended overnight Sleep Study in a sleep laboratory is the most effective method to objectively prove there is no pre-existing sleep disorder. This overnight Sleep Study is then followed by a daytime Sleep Study called a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). The MSLT is designed to objectively measure sleepiness by recording the transitions from wake-to-sleep and sleep-to-REM sleep during a series of naps during the day.

While there is no known cure for narcolepsy, some medications and behavioural changes can help improve the symptoms there for increasing the quality of life.

A Specialist Sleep Physician can help with arranging the Sleep Study and MSLT followed by consultation to discuss where medication or behavioural changes may be helpful.