What does a narcoleptic attack feel like?
Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that affects your ability to get good quality sleep. Because of the condition, you will feel excessively sleepy or tired during the daytime even with a full night’s sleep.
If you suffer from narcolepsy, you may experience attacks in which you can fall asleep in the middle of any activity. This can be dangerous while driving or operating heavy machines. These attacks are known as “narcoleptic sleep attacks.” In between sleep attacks, you have normal levels of alertness, particularly if you are doing activities that keep you alert.
Other symptoms of a narcoleptic attack include the following:
- Cataplexy: Sudden loss of muscle tone that makes you unable to move
- Hallucinations: Unreal sensations that are perceived as real
- Sleep paralysis: Total paralysis just before falling asleep or just after waking up
What triggers a narcoleptic attack?
Narcolepsy has been identified as a hereditary condition, meaning you can get narcolepsy if your parents or grandparents had narcolepsy.
Some researchers have also identified it to be an autoimmune condition (your immune system attacks your healthy cells). In narcolepsy, the immune system destroys certain brain cells that produce a hormone called hypocretin. Hypocretin plays a certain role in regulating your sleep and brain functions. However, the details of its actions are not yet fully understood.
Researchers are now beginning to identify what might trigger an autoimmune attack on hypocretin and give rise to a narcoleptic attack. Narcoleptic attacks most commonly start appearing in the late spring and early summer and after an infection with a microbe known as streptococcus.
Sudden loss of muscle tone in narcolepsy is often triggered by emotions such as laughter, fear, anger, excitement, or stress.
Do narcoleptics sleep well at night?
About half of people with narcolepsy have trouble sleeping through the night. You may wake up frequently (fragmented sleep) and have difficulty falling back to sleep.
Sleep may be disturbed by
- Insomnia (a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for you to fall asleep)
- Sleep apnea (cessation of breathing during sleep)
- Acting out while dreaming
- Restless leg syndrome (a condition in which there is a severe urge to keep moving the legs)
Do narcoleptics dream more?
Generally, with narcolepsy, you experience longer, more complicated, more negative and more vivid dreams than people without narcolepsy. You may also experience nightmares frequently, and may not be able to understand if that was a dream or a real-life experience.