Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes drowsiness, uncontrollable sleepiness and frequent daytime sleeping. While the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, studies show that the disorder may be genetic. A small group of neurons in the brain may be producing transitions from sleep to wakefulness and vice-versa. People with narcolepsy may have fewer of these neurons, or they may have been damaged. The disorder may be aggravated by disruption of work schedules or other stressors. In many cases, after brief sleep the person awakens feeling refreshed. However, they may again become uncontrollably sleepy a short time later. Often dreaming starts immediately upon falling asleep. Episodes usually occur after meals, but can also take place while working or driving a vehicle, having a conversation or being in any non-stimulating situation. Narcolepsy may also be associated with cataplexy, a brief episode of severe loss of muscle tone. Generalized weakness may occur for a few moments during the transition between sleep and wakefulness or dreamlike hallucinations.
Examination and tests are used to rule out other disorders. The diagnosis is confirmed by sleep studies such as the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) which measures the time it takes to fall asleep during daytime nap opportunities. Treatment is aimed at control of the symptoms, lifestyle adjustments and learning to cope with the emotional and other effects of the disorder. Prescription medications may also be helpful.
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