Narcolepsy is a rare neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate normal sleep-wake cycles. It is a chronic disease most commonly affecting adolescents and young adults. It is characterized by daytime fatigue, sleep attack (falling asleep suddenly), temporary loss of control over the muscles in response to certain emotions (such as anger and laughter), and sleep paralysis, a temporary inability to move or talk when waking or falling asleep.
Narcolepsy is often caused due to a deficiency of orexin, a chemical in the brain that regulates sleep. However the exact cause of narcolepsy is not always clear. Hormonal changes during puberty and menopause, psychological stress, a sudden change in sleep cycles or an infection may trigger narcolepsy. To confirm a diagnosis of narcolepsy, your doctor may ask you to maintain a sleep log. Your levels of orexin may be measured, and tests such as polysomnography (measures body functions during sleep) and multiple sleep latency tests (measures brain activity during the day) may be ordered.
There is no cure for narcolepsy, but it can be well managed with lifestyle changes. Your doctor may advise you to take brief naps scheduled at regular intervals to avoid excessive daytime drowsiness. Practicing a strict bedtime routine may also help you to a large extent. If the symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe medication that will help you reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve your night sleep.