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Are you overtired all the time? Do you find yourself nodding off during the day? Here are five symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.
Is exhaustion part of your everyday life? If the urge to sleep is overwhelming and irresistible, it may be a sleep disorder called narcolepsy, a condition affecting approximately one in 2,000 people in the United States.
Narcolepsy is one of the most frequently diagnosed primary sleep disorders. However, it’s not always easy to recognise.
There are five major symptoms of narcolepsy, says Dr Raj Dasgupta, pulmonary and sleep specialist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
“Many can be confused with other medical conditions such as depression or epilepsy, making a narcolepsy diagnosis somewhat tricky,” says the doctor.
“Approximately half of the people affected by narcolepsy remain undiagnosed. A diagnosis can take up to 10 years to receive. We need greater awareness of narcolepsy to help expedite the diagnosis process for patients.”
Anyone with narcolepsy has excessive daytime sleepiness. That’s when you feel tired all the time, making it hard to stay awake and alert throughout the day. It can be described as feeling fatigued or irritable, having difficulty concentrating, poor memory, or mood changes. Patients say it comes in waves, like a “sleep attack”. These can happen during unusual situations, such as in the middle of a meal, a conversation or a bike ride.
There are five major symptoms but you don’t need to experience them all to have narcolepsy.
Excessive daytime sleepiness
This is when you have an irresistible urge to sleep during the day.
The weakening of muscles when you feel strong emotions like embarrassment, laughter, surprise or anger. Cataplexy can cause your head to drop, your face to droop, your jaw to weaken or make your knees give way.
When you often fall asleep quickly but wake up frequently throughout the night.
Feeling unable to move or speak for a short time when falling asleep or waking up. You may also feel like you can’t breathe.
Often frightening dream-like experiences that seem real, and occur as you fall asleep or when you wake up. You may experience hearing sounds or words when drifting off to sleep or have unwanted visions. Sleep paralysis often accompanies vivid dreams.
Narcolepsy occurs equally in men and women, and as often for both sexes. The symptoms often start between the ages of 10 and 25 but they can take up to 12 years for narcolepsy to fully develop. It is a debilitating disease, as it can cause difficulties at work, have a negative impact on social interactions, lower one’s self-esteem and create challenges in performing everyday tasks. Contrary to popular belief, people with narcolepsy do not spend more time sleeping than the average person.
“It’s normal to feel tired sometimes,” says Dr Dasgupta. “But if the urge to fall asleep is interfering with your job or personal life, it might be time to talk to a sleep specialist.”
For more information about narcolepsy and to take a symptom screener, visit MoreThanTired.com.