When you just can’t seem to get enough sleep

Do you ever feel like no matter how many hours of sleep you get, you are still exhausted? If the answer is yes, then this may be a sign that you have narcolepsy.

“Narcolepsy usually begins with the recognition that you are excessively sleepy – but that is not the only symptom of narcolepsy and in fact, excessive sleepiness can also simply be a sign of poor sleeping habits,” said Dr. Philip Alapat, a sleep specialist. “Figuring out whether or not your excessive sleepiness is truly pathologic can be difficult. We have to make sure that it isn’t associated with something else.”

 Signs and symptoms

 Common symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • The inability to maintain sleep throughout the night
  • Cataplexy, which is the weakening of muscles or paralysis related to emotional stimulus such as laughter, fear, or crying
  • Paralysis while falling asleep or waking up
  • Hypnagogia, or dreaming as you are falling asleep or waking up

Narcolepsy is more prevalent than most people realize. Many patients are often misdiagnosed with psychiatric disorders, strokes, mood disorders, and other neurologic conditions before a diagnosis of narcolepsy is considered.

What if you suspect narcolepsy?

The diagnosis is based on the patient’s history and observations made during sleep studies. Doctors often conduct a multiple sleep latency test where they offer the patient nap opportunities throughout the day and evaluate the patient’s ability to fall asleep and how quickly they enter the stages of sleep.

Although the disorder is not curable, it’s treatable through medication and lifestyle changes.

“Most people are simply sleep deprived if they find themselves feeling very tired, but if they can improve their sleep quantity then their sleepiness will likely improve,” Alapat said. “However, if sleepiness is persistent, occurs on a daily basis and intrudes on activities and prevents you from doing what you want to be doing, then you should consider being evaluated by a sleep medicine specialist.”

Dr. Alapat is an assistant professor in the section of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Learn more about sleep medicine services at Baylor.

-By Julia Bernstein

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