Narcolepsy is a relatively rare sleep disorder, affecting an estimated 200,000 Americans. However, researchers believe many more people with this sometimes debilitating sleep disorder may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, due to this condition being difficult to recognize based on symptoms alone. Many other sleep disorders, physical illnesses, drug interaction side effects and even mental illnesses can present with some of the same symptoms as narcolepsy, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, muscle weakness, collapse, hallucinations and sleep paralysis.
How do sleep medicine physicians define narcolepsy? First, it’s important to note that narcolepsy is one of the less commonly seen sleep disorders. Many people who have excessive daytime sleepiness—who yawn a lot, fall asleep very easily or take unwanted naps during the day—may think they may be narcoleptic, but they’re probably mistaken. It’s far more likely they’re experiencing the symptoms of the more common sleep disorders of sleep apnea or insomnia—disorders that affect millions of Americans.
Around bedtime, do you ever find yourself fighting the distracting and overpowering urge to move your legs or feet to get relief from itching, burning, or a creepy-crawly feeling? Do you have trouble getting comfortable in bed and find it impossible to get into the right position to drift off to sleep? Perhaps your legs burn and tickle—not on the skin, but deeper inside.
“I’m tired and sleepy every day,” said the exhausted patient. No matter how early she went to bed or how late she slept, she still felt extremely tired and fatigued. She lacked the energy and mental clarity to do the things she loved to do. Sometimes she’d take naps at work, or worry about falling asleep behind the wheel driving home or picking up her kids from school. After weeks or months of this excessive fatigue, she went to see a sleep medicine specialist to solve the mystery once and for all: why was she so tired all the time?