Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is fairly common in the US, affecting an estimated 200,000 people. This is a disorder that often goes undiagnosed, and when it is diagnosed, it is only after many years of illness. Humans and animals can both be affected by narcolepsy. Narcolepsy was first described in Germany in the year 1877 by a man named Westphal. Gelineau first labeled the disorder "Narcolepsy" in the year 1880. The onset of the symptoms usually occurs in the teen years and early twenties. Men and women are both equally likely to have this disorder. About half of Narcolepsy cases occur because of severe psychological stress or altered sleeping schedules, and about 40% of people suffering from narcolepsy have mental disorders. .
The most outstanding symptoms of Narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness and abnormal REM sleep. Narcoleptics cannot control when they fall asleep, and attacks may occur at any time. Just before falling asleep between 40-50% of Narcoleptics experience hallucinations, affecting both vision and hearing. 30-50% go through sleep paralysis, an upsetting event considered to be an abnormal episode of sleep atonia, where the patient is unable to speak or move and has difficulty breathing. Cataplexy is a symptom unique to Narcolepsy, and is triggered by emotions. The patient experiences a sudden and striking episode of muscle weakness, causing problems from a slackened jaw to a complete body collapse. Once asleep, patients go immediately into REM sleep, dreaming almost instantly. Narcoleptics are also more liable to sleepwalk, bed wet, clench their jaws and grind their teeth.
The diagnosis of Narcolepsy can be quite simple, but it all depends on how many of the symptoms are present and can be easily observed. A nocturnal polysomnogram, followed by the multiple sleep latency test. Before polysomnographic testing is performed, a minimum two-week withdrawal period from any drugs with side effects that disrupt sleep is usually required; these include alcohol, antidepressants, narcotics, and other medications.