Facebook Pixel

Narcolepsy: Uncontrollable Attacks of Sleep

By HERWriter
Rate This

Narcoleptics don't sleep more than the rest of us. It's just that they never know when they'll fall asleep. They can doze off over a dozen times a day.

And they never know what they'll be doing when the next round of uncontrollable unconciousness hits. It can happen while they're working, cooking, or talking to you. It can happen while they're driving a car.

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder, which means there's a problem in the brain, affecting the individual's sleep-wake cycle. Anger, laughter, sexual excitement or just being surprised, can trigger sudden attacks of sleep.

Picture if you will the astonishing situations this can bring about, for the narcoleptic and for the people they are interacting with.

Narcolepsy is misunderstood and underdiagnosed, so many people with this condition don't know they have it. They just know they have a tendency to nod off.

They may hallucinate as they fall sleep or wake up, and they may experience paralysis at those times. They may also have short periods of cataplexy.

Mild cataplexy attacks are the most frequent. The head may drop, the jaw may become slack. The knees may go weak and the arms may become heavy and useless. Speech may become indistinct, or the narcoleptic may be unable to speak at all.

In more severe attacks, the individual may find themselves falling out of a chair, or hitting the ground from a standing position.

Narcolepsy typically emerges in adolescence, when irregular hours are commonplace. This fits all too well with the narcoleptic profile, with its times of irresistible drowsiness during the day, and interrupted sleep at night.

It is easy to conclude that what seems like insomnia is causing sleepiness throughout the day.

Some research suggests that narcolepsy is a dysfunction of the brain in regulating REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. For the normal sleeper, NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep is the first stage, followed later by REM sleep.

REM sleep is usually dreaming sleep, during which muscles are temporarily paralyzed so we don't act out our dreams. The narcoleptic usually hits REM sleep within the first few minutes.

Add a Comment8 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I was just diagnosed in April with full blown Narcolepsy and it was a relief. I can tell when I'm going to have an attack - for the most part its a sensation in the back of my neck, almost like a warm tingling and trickling of fluid. On occasion if I'm at church or watching a movie that's boring, I'll notice that I'm yawning non stop - in that case I have to get up and walk around or go outside and change my surrounding. I have to tell my family "I'm going down" so they know it's time to leave. The cataplexy, I remeber the first time. It was 8 yrs ago and it has gotten worse and worse to the point that I can no longer hide it. I've dropped on the ground when being chased by my children. It's like your body shuts things down without letting you know.

October 23, 2010 - 9:04pm

All we can do is keep talking!
Since I can even do that in my sleep, I figured it was a good calling. ;o)

There are a lot of us out there, we just need to come together. I hope you'll join me, and feel free to keep in touch! We're trying to get some more patient stories and roll out some blogs this spring now that the core is up.

Check it out!


May 1, 2010 - 8:48am
HERWriter (reply to planetnarcolepsy)

Talking is good ... even in your sleep. :-)

I'll definitely look over your links.

May 1, 2010 - 9:13am

Hi Jessica,

More power to you for getting the word out on Narcolepsy and for offering up support to people who have it. It is a condition that people don't hear about often, or know much about.

I hope support and awareness on Narcolepsy keeps on spreading.

May 1, 2010 - 8:45am
EmpowHER Guest

Hi Jessica and thank you for sharing the support sites. This is a great place to come to spread the word about narcolepsy. I love the "Happy Napping" innuendo also!

Good luck!

May 1, 2010 - 8:39am
EmpowHER Guest

My name is Jessica, and I am the founder of a fairly new website call Planet Narcolepsy. I am going to all the big search engines looking for people with Narcolepsy and related disorders to spread the word of my site, and came across this page.

I was hoping you would take a moment to check us out and, if you feel it would be helpful for you or someone you know, pass on our links and contact information.

Put simply, Planet Narcolepsy is a place designed to bring together patients, their family and friends, and their providers with reliable sources of information on Narcolepsy, hypersomnias, sleep research, clinical trials, and much more. We have a support forum, blogs, and are growing every day. We have already connected closely with one group in Argentina and continue to work on networking around the world.

I hope you'll come take a look, and I look forward to meeting you and your friends!


Happy Napping!
Jessica Stanton
Planet Narcolepsy
(p) 203.608.0475
(f) 203.440.1848

May 1, 2010 - 8:24am

Thanks for sharing this. There is no better place to learn from than the voice of experience.

Thank you for the correction.


April 27, 2010 - 1:20pm
EmpowHER Guest

"Anger, laughter, sexual excitement or just being surprised, can trigger sudden attacks of sleep." Actually, it is cataplectic attacks that are triggered by emotion, not sleep attacks.. and we do NOT fall asleep on the onset of a cataplectic attack. We are wide awake, can see and hear...just, for the most part, cannot move or speak. While it is the chemical that appears in 'normal' brains during REM sleep that causes our paralysis during a cataplectic attack.. we are not asleep (though sleep may follow an attack). Actual sleep attacks can happen anytime of the day or night without any seeming trigger.

April 27, 2010 - 1:09pm
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Sleep Disorders

Get Email Updates

Sleep Disorders Guide

HERWriter Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!