Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder, or dyssomnia, characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) in which a person experiences extreme fatigue and possibly falls asleep at inappropriate times, such as while at work or at school. Narcoleptics usually experience disturbed nocturnal sleep and an abnormal daytime sleep pattern, which is often confused with insomnia. When a narcoleptic falls asleep they generally experience the REM stage of sleep within 10 minutes; whereas most people do not experience REM sleep until after 90 minutes.
Another problem that some narcoleptics experience is cataplexy, a sudden muscular weakness brought on by strong emotions (though many people experience cataplexy without having an emotional trigger). It often manifests as muscular weaknesses ranging from a barely perceptible slackening of the facial muscles to the dropping of the jaw or head, weakness at the knees, or a total collapse. Usually speech is slurred and vision is impaired (double vision, inability to focus), but hearing and awareness remain normal. In some rare cases, an individual's body becomes paralyzed and muscles become stiff.
Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder. It is not caused by mental illness or psychological problems. It is most likely affected by a number of genetic abnormalities that affect specific biologic factors in the brain, combined with an environmental trigger during the brain's development, such as a virus.
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