Our brains regulate when we go to sleep, helping us to stay awake during the day and other periods of activity. People with narcolepsy are unable to control when they are asleep and awake, causing them to be overly tired and to involuntarily fall asleep during the day. Instead of experiencing progressively deeper stages of sleep, as is common among those without the condition, narcoleptics enter the deep-sleep stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep immediately and during hours when they are awake. This neurological condition can occur at any time, regardless of the person’s activity level, and can be accompanied by abrupt muscle weakness and uncontrolled emotions. Cataplexy is also common among narcoleptics, causing sudden muscle weakness that can lead to bodily collapse and slurred speech, as are intense and frightening hallucinations. Narcoleptics are common in all age groups, predominantly between ages 15-25, and while not traced to a specific cause are often genetically based and the result of a combination of neurological and REM sleep deficiencies.
Narcolepsy is often treated through prescription drugs, such as amphetamines to address daytime fatigue and antidepressants to control irregularities in REM sleep. Narcoleptics may also need to eat lighter meals, not use alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, and exercise regularly.