Narcolepsy is a rare long-term brain disorder that causesa person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times.

The brain is unable to regulate sleeping and waking patterns normally, which can result in:

  • excessive daytime sleepiness feeling very drowsy throughout the day, and having difficulty concentratingandstaying awake
  • sleep attacks falling asleep suddenly and without warning
  • cataplexy temporary loss of muscle control resulting in weakness and possible collapse, oftenin response to emotions such as laughter and anger
  • Sleep paralysis a temporary inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep
  • excessive dreaming and waking in the night dreams often come as you fall asleep (hypnogogichallucinations) or just before or during waking (hypnopompic hallucinations)

Narcolepsy doesn't cause serious or long-term physical health problems, but itcan have a significant impact on daily life and be difficult to cope with emotionally.

It's difficult to know exactly how many people have narcolepsy because many cases are thought to go unreported.

However, it's estimated the condition affects at least 25,000 people in the UK.

Men and women are thought to be affected equally by narcolepsy, although some studies havesuggestedthe condition may be more common in men.

The symptoms often begin during adolescence, although the condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

Diagnosing narcolepsy

Make an appointment to see your GP if you think you may have narcolepsy. Theymay ask about your sleeping habits and any other symptoms you have.

They may also carry out tests to help rule out other conditions that couldbe causing your excessive daytime sleepiness, such as sleep apnoea , restless legs in bed and kicking during sleep, or an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) .

If necessary,you'll be referredto aspecialist in sleep disorders, who will analyseyour sleep patterns. This will usually involve staying overnight in a specialist sleep centre so various aspects of your sleep can be monitored.

This may be difficult when you're atwork or school, but your GP or specialistmay be able to devise a sleep schedule that will help you get into a routine of taking naps.

Keepingto a strict bedtime routine can also help, so you should go to bed at the same time each night whenever possible.

If your symptoms are particularly troublesome, you may be prescribed medication that can help reduce daytime sleepiness, prevent cataplexy attacks and improve your sleep at night.

These medications are usually taken as daily tablets, capsules or drinkable solutions.

This helps scientists look for better ways to prevent and treat this condition. You can opt out of the register at any time.

Find out more about the register .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016