Narcolepsy is a vastly under-diagnosed, misunderstood and potentially disabling disorder that affects 1 in 2,000 people. Key symptoms are excessive daytime sleepiness, or sleep attacks, that occur at inappropriate times. Those who suffer from narcolepsy may fall asleep in meetings, in school, while driving, even while talking to someone. The condition is also associated with sleep paralysis, vivid dreams while trying to fall asleep, and in some cases sudden muscle weakness that accompanies strong emotion.
There is usually a significant delay in the time it takes to diagnose a patient with narcolepsy, and many patients are misdiagnosed with psychological problems for years before getting the correct diagnosis and treatment. The evaluation for narcolepsy requires a comprehensive history and physical exam, as well as sleep studies performed at night and during the day. Treatments are available for narcolepsy that can significantly improve the severe impact this disorder can have on patients’ lives.