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a sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and recurring unwanted episodes of sleep ("sleep attacks"). People with narcolepsy may abruptly fall asleep at almost any time, including while talking, eating, or even walking. The attacks may range from embarrassing or inconvenient to severely disabling, interfering with a person's daily life. An estimated 125,000–250,000 people in the United States have narcolepsy; it occurs about equally in males and females.

Most people with narcolepsy also experience cataplexy, sudden muscular weakness without loss of consciousness, which usually accompanies laughter or anger. Other symptoms, occurring just after falling asleep or upon awakening, include sleep paralysis (a feeling that one cannot move) and vivid hallucinations.

The cause of narcolepsy is not known with certainty, but most people with narcolepsy have low levels of orexin (or hypocretin), a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness. In the case of people with narcolepsy and cataplexy, the cause appears to be an autoimmune response that attacks the brain's orexin-producing neurons. There is no cure. Treatment, including regular planned naps and the use of stimulant drugs (e.g., amphetaminesamphetamine
, any one of a group of drugs that are powerful central nervous system stimulants. Amphetamines have stimulating effects opposite to the effects of depressants such as alcohol, narcotics, and barbiturates.
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) plus antidepressantsantidepressant,
any of a wide range of drugs used to treat psychic depression. They are given to elevate mood, counter suicidal thoughts, and increase the effectiveness of psychotherapy.
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 for cataplexy, can help to control its symptoms.



a disease the main symptom of which is an uncontrollable desire for sleep. Narcolepsy can develop after infections (epidemic encephalitis and malaria, for example) or head injuries; it may also be caused by certain brain tumors. Sometimes no apparent cause can be discovered, as in congenital, or genuine, narcolepsy. In addition to being characterized by an uncontrollable desire for sleep, narcolepsy is characterized by cataplectic attacks (loss of muscle tone brought about by exaggerated emotion) and by sudden arousals from nocturnal sleep with a loss of muscle tone. The duration of narcoleptic attacks is brief—from one to 30 minutes. The course of narcolepsy is chronic, but the intensity diminishes with age. Treatment involves both the elimination of the underlying cause and the use of pharmacotherapeutic techniques.


A disorder of sleep mechanism characterized by two or more of four distinct symptoms: uncontrollable periods of daytime drowsiness, cataleptic attacks of muscular weakness, sleep paralysis, and vivid nocturnal or hypnogogic hallucinations.
References in periodicals archive ?
Prior to death, all the narcoleptics had been diagnosed by a sleep disorder center as having narcolepsy with cataplexy.
The sleep of narcoleptics is abnormal and characterized by: a short sleep latency; frequent sleep onset REM periods (i.
With EDS being the most prevalent and the most problematic issue for narcoleptics, most of the treatments target this particular symptom (8).
Diagnosed at the age of five, she became the youngest known narcoleptic in the UK and has spent the past 14 years learning how to live a normal life.
She presented the first-ever study of sodium oxybate's quality of life impact in narcoleptic patients.
Scientists have discovered that all of us, except narcoleptics, have a chemical called orexin in our brain to keep us awake.
At Stanford and the University of California-Los Angeles, scientists studied preserved brains from narcoleptics and found that all were missing HC-secreting cells in the hypothalamus.
The scientists, however, had other evidence that hypocretins are the key to the disorder: The neurotransmitters were missing in the cerebrospinal fluid of most of the narcoleptics they studied.
14,21,22] Despite taking medication, many narcoleptics perceive their symptoms, particularly their sleepiness, to be poorly controlled.
Whereas those with sleep apnea syndrome often wake up in the middle of the night because they cannot breathe, narcoleptics are not known for breathing disturbances.
Mignot and others showed in the late 1990s that the disease stems from a lack of hypocretin, a hormone that promotes wakefulness; they later showed that narcoleptics are missing brain cells that produce this hormone.