Deep Bench: Narcolepsy goes beyond average sleepiness many of us feel

(WZAW) -- Do you ever have days when you can barely keep your eyes open? With hectic schedules and non-stop activities, many of us attribute our sleepiness to our busy lifestyle. But if you or your child experience excessive daytime sleepiness, you may have a chronic, commonly misdiagnosed neurological sleep disorder known as narcolepsy.

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Narcolepsy is a serious neurological condition that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Symptoms commonly start during childhood or adolescence, but people with narcolepsy may experience symptoms for 10 or more years before receiving a diagnosis, and these delays can significantly impact their lives.

On Tuesday, sleep specialists and practicing neurologists Dr. Christopher Winter and Dr. Anne Marie Morse joined NewsChannel 7 at 4 to explain what narcolepsy is and why it is so important to get an early and accurate diagnosis.

“Universally, patients who have narcolepsy have this severe, debilitating, excessive sleepiness,” Dr. Morse said. She added that it goes beyond normal sleepiness most of us feel.

“What we’re talking about are individuals who their sleepiness is impairing them from being able to do normal activities.”

She added that troubles with your job or interpersonal relationships could suffer from narcolepsy.

“Sleep is a critical component of everyone’s lives,” Dr. Morse emphasized.

Dr. Winter said there are other common symptoms linked to the disorder. They include:

- Cataplexy, which is sudden muscle weakness triggered by strong emotions

- Disrupted nighttime sleep. You often fall asleep quickly but wake up frequently throughout the night

- Sleep paralysis, meaning you feel unable to move or speak when falling asleep or waking up

- Hypnagogic/Hypnopompic hallucinations. They are vivid dreamlike experiences when falling asleep or waking up that seem real and are often frightening

One in 2,000 individuals are living with narcolepsy, but Dr. Morse said about 50% of those people are either misdiagnosed or don’t even realize they have it.

If you do suspect you or a loved one may have this disorder, Dr. Winter said the best thing you can do is talk about it and learn more about it.

“I think we need to recognize these things and not explain them away,” he said, encouraging those who suspect narcolepsy to talk to their health care provider and bring up the possibility of narcolepsy.

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