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What is narcolepsy?


Symptoms and Treatment

According to Stedman's Medical Dictionary, the symptoms of narcolepsy are:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness - the overwhelming urge to fall asleep during the day, even after having plenty of sleep the night before
  • Cataplexy - a sudden, usually brief attack of general muscle weakness related to a strong emotional response (fear, anger, laughter)
  • Hypnagogic sleep paralysis - brief episodes of paralysis that occur when falling asleep
  • Hypnopompic sleep paralysis - brief episodes of paralysis that occur when waking up
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations - vivid, usually visual or auditory hallucinations that occur at the onset of sleep (sometime between falling asleep and the actual sleep state)
  • Hypnopompic hallucinations - vivid, usually visual or auditory hallucinations that occur when waking up

Although this chronic disorder has no known cure, the symptoms can be controlled through medication or a combination of medication and behavior modification. Stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextramphetamine (Dexedrine) or pemoline (Cylert) are commonly prescribed to improve alertness, while antidepressants such as imipramine or fluoxetine (Prozac) are prescribed to manage cataplexy, sleep paralysis and hallucinations. Regular exercise (at least 3 hours prior to bedtime), omitting or limiting caffeine intake during the afternoon and evening, taking planned naps and eating light meals during the day may alleviate excessive daytime sleepiness and troubled nighttime sleep.

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