Narcolepsy – Symptoms 

Symptoms of narcolepsy 

Symptoms of narcolepsy can vary from person to person. Some people have frequent symptoms, while others are less frequently affected.

Excessive daytime sleepiness

In most cases excessive daytime sleepiness is the first symptom to occur. It is often the most debilitating symptom. 

If you have excessive daytime sleepiness, you will feel drowsy throughout the day and have difficulty staying awake.

Sleep attacks

Sleep attacks, where you fall asleep suddenly and without warning, are also a common symptom of narcolepsy. They often occur after eating, although you may experience one at any time.

The length of time a sleep attack lasts will vary from person to person. During an attack, you may fall asleep for about 15 minutes before waking up feeling alert and refreshed. You may have several sleep attacks a day.

Other symptoms

As well as daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks, narcolepsy can cause a variety of other symptoms including:

  • temporary muscle paralysis  known as cataplexy (see below); during an episode you will be unable to speak or move
  • hallucinations  seeing or hearing things that are not real
  • difficulty concentrating
  • restless night-time sleep  for example, you may have hot flushes, wake up frequently and have vivid nightmares and/or physically act out your dreams
  • automatic behaviour  continuing to carry out normal activities, such as talking or moving around, while you are still asleep


About three-quarters (75%) of people who have narcolepsy also experience cataplexy. Cataplexy is where you have a sudden, temporary muscle weakness or loss of muscular control. For example, during an attack your:

  • jaw may drop
  • head may slump down
  • legs may collapse uncontrollably
  • speech may be slurred
  • eyesight may be impaired (you may have double vision or find it difficult to focus) 

Cataplexy attacks are usually triggered by an emotion, such as excitement, laughter, anger or surprise. Attacks can last from a few seconds up to 30 minutes.

Some people with narcolepsy have cataplexy attacks once or twice a year, while others experience them several times a day. The symptoms of cataplexy sometimes begin to improve as you get older.

Page last reviewed: 07/06/2012

Next review due: 07/06/2014


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

FooBar said on 17 February 2012

Re:Seviyorumcok comments back in 2010.
Regarding a link between CO exposure and Narcolepsy?
I`ve been diagnosed Narcoleptic with Cataplexy for over a decade.
I am certain the "Environmental Factor", which triggered this disability was exposure to CO escaping from the heating system. This was thoroughly investigated and found to be a faulty installation, which I persued legally but an "Expert"(could`nt find one) felt it remote, so my case folded.
As evidence and research since has proven, Narc is an auto-immune related condition.
The fact is medical evidence of those exposed to CO, can result in mimicking Narcoleptic symtoms.
In fact I would say it almost is an ideal kick start to triggering Narcolepsy.
I have researched this and recent findings on Narc only back it up. I hope it is of some help knowing there are others out there who have similar experiences.
Hope you are okay and battling on, I know what a complete life changer Narc is. I would not wish it on my worst enemy, at 27 my life ended as it was just beginning, now I just take the tablets and live day by day and enjoy life as much as possible. Best wishes and hope this gets to you.

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Seviyorumcok said on 23 August 2010

This is the continuation from the script I have just written/.......................

Where was I? Ah yes! My eating is now of bread and butter or biscuits with a cup of tea! Not very healthy I know but I really don't want to set fire to my home by my excessive sleeping whilst cooking, besides I don't think I have anymore saucepans left to cook in.

As I am typing this I want to go to sleep so much, my head keeps dropping so I do think I best get off from my computer so I can go back to sleep.

Thank you for reading my 2 scripts on excessive sleeping. I would love to hear from ANYONE who can help me - thank you!

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Seviyorumcok said on 23 August 2010

At last I feel I have found what is wrong with me I am suffering from Narcoplexy and Cataplexy. The onset of my condition has come on gradually over the last 4 years but recently it has become so bad my quality of life is now ZILCH! I have mentioned my excessive sleeping to my GP who doesn't remark on it, I have mentioned it to a young woman Dr in hospital who said it's probably my tablets. But I know it's not my tablets as I have been on them now for 7 years, the 3 years before my excessive sleeping started were great. My quality of life is very bad and yet I can't seem to get the help I desperately need. It is now putting me in danger, not only have I fallen asleep whilst sat on my loo for 2.1/2hrs (yes I know it sounds funny) but I have fallen asleep at my computer and woke up with the key indentations on my forehead. The most scary part is when I fall asleep whilst cooking! I have set my fire alarm off on 7 occassions , I have had to throw out 5 saucepans. I have fallen asleep with a cigarette in my hand and ended up burning my rug 3 times now! I firmly believe I am going to die in a house fire caused by my excessive sleeping. But what do I do and where do I go for help if my GP ignores me? Can anyone help me? My daughter seems to think my being exposed to Carbon Monoxide over a 2 yr period might have something to do with my excessive sleeping. It's just a good job I sleep with my windows open otherwise I don't think I would be here right now, The CO was spilling from my kitchen boiler, the hsg assoc who owns my property have now corrected it but when I put it to them it may be the cause of my excessive sleeping they are not owning up to it and have now brushed it under the carpet. Is there anyone out there who could help me??? I am a woman 57yrs next week and yet I feel like a woman of 90yrs! It is affecting every area of my life, even my hygeine as I am now far too tired to even shower daily! I try now to avoid cooking so therefore my diet is also rubbish too

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narcoleptic said on 31 March 2010

Re Symptoms during cataplexy attacks:

Loss of voluntary muscle tone. Cannot speak, move or see but can hear and is aware of surroundings. Severe or prolonged cataplexy attacks develop into REM sleep.

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narcoleptic said on 05 November 2009

Re Symptoms:
Racing heart/palpitations on falling asleep and during sleep.

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