Narcolepsy - Symptoms 

Symptoms of narcolepsy 

Not everyone with narcolepsy will experience the same symptoms. Some experience them regularly, while others are less frequently affected.

Symptoms may develop slowly over a number of years, or suddenly over the course of a few weeks.

Narcolepsy is generally a long-term (chronic) condition, although some of the symptoms may improve as you get older.

You should make an appointment to see your GP if you think you may have narcolepsy, so they can determine what is causing your symptoms. If necessary, you will be referred to a specialist in sleep disorders, who can confirm the diagnosis. Read more about diagnosing narcolepsy.

Excessive daytime sleepiness

In most cases, excessive daytime sleepiness is the first sign of narcolepsy. This can have a significant impact on everyday life.

Feeling drowsy throughout the day and struggling to stay awake makes it difficult to concentrate at work or school. People with narcolepsy may be misjudged as being lazy or rude.

Sleep attacks

Sleep attacks  falling asleep suddenly and without warning  are also common in people with narcolepsy. They often occur after eating, although can happen at any time.

The length of time a sleep attack lasts will vary from person to person. Some people will only have "microsleeps" lasting a few seconds, whereas others may fall asleep for several minutes.

If narcolepsy is not well controlled, sleep attacks may happen several times a day.

Cataplexy

Most people who have narcolepsy also experience cataplexy  sudden, temporary muscle weakness or loss of muscular control. Typical symptoms are:

  • the jaw dropping
  • the head slumping down
  • legs collapsing uncontrollably
  • slurred speech 
  • finding it difficult to focus, or double vision

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

Some people with narcolepsy have cataplexy attacks once or twice a year, while others experience them several times a day. In an attempt to avoid attacks, some people may become emotionally withdrawn and socially isolated.

Sleep paralysis

Some people with narcolepsy will experience episodes of sleep paralysis. This is a temporary inability to move or speak that occurs when you are waking up or falling asleep.

The episodes can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Although sleep paralysis does not cause any harm, being unable to move can be frightening.

Other symptoms

As well as the symptoms described above, narcolepsy can cause a number of other symptoms, including:

  • hallucinations  seeing or hearing things that are not real, particularly when going to sleep or waking up
  • memory problems
  • headaches
  • restless sleep  for example, having hot flushes, waking up frequently, having vivid nightmares or physically acting out dreams
  • automatic behaviour  carrying on with an activity, but having no recollection of it afterwards 
  • depression

If you have narcolepsy and it is making you feel depressed or low, speak to your GP.

They can give advice on how to minimise the effect narcolepsy has on your daily life. They can also put you in touch with a narcolepsy organisation or support group, such as Narcolepsy UK.

Page last reviewed: 28/05/2014

Next review due: 28/05/2016

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Comments

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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Getting ready for bed

If you have difficulty nodding off, a regular bedtime ritual will help you wind down and prepare for sleep