DEFINITION--Rare sleep disorder characterized by uncontrollable episodes of
falling asleep at any place or time. After a 10 or 15 minute sleep attack, the person
feels rested only briefly, then returns to an uncomfortable feeling of sleepiness. Attacks
may occur while driving, talking or working.
BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Central nervous system.
SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED
- Both sexes.
- Begins in adolescence or young adulthood and continues throughout life.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS--
CAUSES--Unknown. Possible involvement of the immune system. Occasionally, it
follows brain infection or head injury.
RISK INCREASES WITH
Family history. > Either of the following may trigger an attack: Monotonous
activity, prolonged laughter.
HOW TO PREVENT--No known preventive measures.
What To Expect
- Your own observation of symptoms.
- Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
- EEG (See Glossary).
- Studies in a sleep laboratory (sometimes).
APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE
- Self-care after diagnosis.
- Doctor's treatment.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS--Accidental injury during a sudden sleep attack.
PROBABLE OUTCOME--This disorder lasts throughout life, but it has no effect on
life expectancy. Symptoms can worsen with aging. However, in women, symptoms can improve
after menopause. Medication can decrease the frequency of sleep attacks.
How To Treat
- Treatment usually involves regular naps along with medication to help control the
- Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet or pendant (See Glossary).
- See Resources for Additional Information.
MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:
- Stimulants that increase levels of daytime alertness.
- Antidepressants for other symptoms (momentary paralysis).
- Don't engage in any activity that carries the risk of injury from a sudden sleep attack.
These include activities such as driving long distances, climbing ladders or working
around dangerous machinery.
- Exercise can sometimes decrease the number of sleep attacks. Seek to achieve optimal
DIET--No special diet.
Call Your Doctor If
- You have symptoms of narcolepsy.
- New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.