A neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to control sleep and wakefulness cycles, narcolepsy affects approximately 1 in 2,000 people. Symptoms may begin occurring during childhood or adolescence, but many people experience them for years before being properly diagnosed (and some never are).
Narcolepsy is most often characterized by a person unintentionally falling asleep while engaging in normal activities throughout the day, but that’s only one indicator of the disorder. While the following are the five most common signs of narcolepsy, only a small proportion of people have all of them, so it’s important to see a doctor if experiencing even one of these symptoms.
1. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is a symptom that affects all people with narcolepsy, and is the most common identifier of the disorder. Although the degree to which EDS is experienced varies from person to person, according to the Alaska Sleep Clinic it is characterized by “a chronic persistence of feeling sleepy and involuntary episodes of falling asleep without warning.”
These involuntary sleep episodes often last for less than 30 minutes, and typically occur while a person is not in an active state, such as when watching TV, sitting in a class or meeting, or while riding in a car. In some cases, however, they may happen while eating, engaging in conversation or, most dangerously, while driving.