What Is Narcolespy?

By Eric Cho


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by sudden and uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep, but the deep sleep does not occur at the times it should. It occurs instead at times in which its victim should be fully alert and wide awake like during the daytime, while talking, eating, or driving, or during a loud and active event. During an narcoleptic episode, a narcolepsy patient will suddenly find himself in the midst of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – a sleep stage that’s normally reserved for nighttime sleep no matter what the surrounding environment presents. Lasting for just a few minutes, the narcoleptic person appears to be sleep, however is mentally conscious of the event. Often accompanying narcolepsy is cataplexy – a condition caused by an overwhelming shock or extreme fear undoubtedly triggered by the inability to stop a narcoleptic episode.

Because of the unexpected and sudden onset of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, cataplexy is to be expected since Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is full of dream matter (sounds, images, etc.). Living with a condition which unexpectedly displays REM imagery and sounds couldn’t possibly be an easy thing to adapt to. Yet, 40-60% of narcolepsy patients experience cataplexy explicitly because of vivid daydreams although disorientation and confusion are sure to contribute to the shock and fear that’s experienced as well.



Narcolepsy is different from suddenly falling asleep after a lack of sleep or a day of hard and unusual labor. It isn’t that unusual for a person to abruptly lay down and take a nap from extreme tiredness or moving clear across the country for example. Narcolepsy is instead, noted by severe daytime sleepiness after a full night of sleep, by sleep paralysis, and by cataplexy described above even though cataplexy is not prevalent in all narcoleptic patients. The prevalence of narcolepsy in a family is another symptom that could identify a narcoleptic patient. Family history plays a significant role in narcoleptic symptoms since narcolepsy is considered to be genetic.


The exact reasons for narcoleptic episodes are still unknown although it’s qualification as a specific brain disorder or a dysfunction of certain brain structures is thought to initiate its sudden characteristic.


The sudden onset of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is enough to put any narcolepsy patient into a state of cataplexy which can be a dangerous situation in itself. However it’s how the body reacts to Rapid Eye Movement characteristics (dream imagery and sounds), disorientation, confusion and the resulting cataplexy that’s of the utmost concern. The potential for harm not only exists in the event that a narcolepsy patient unknowingly runs or walks into a dangerous situation (or fails to escape from one), it also exists in the event that a narcolepsy patient physically reacts in a way that’s inappropriate for the environment in which the episode occurred. The good news is that the narcoleptic is easy to wake.

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