The symptoms of narcolepsy most commonly begin between adolescence and 25. People with narcolepsy can fall asleep without warning. They typically sleep for a short period of time, wake feeling refreshed and then eventually fall asleep again.
Narcolepsy also is characterized by abnormal rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The brain cycles through five phases during sleep. REM typically occurs about 90 minutes after sleep begins but, in patients with narcolepsy, REM sleep occurs almost immediately in the sleep cycle, and intermittently during the waking hours. REM sleep is associated with dreams.
Other symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Halluncinations – At the onset of sleep, some patients have vivid hallucinations. For example, they might have visions that someone or something is present in the bedroom.
- Sleep paralysis – Patients may lose the ability to move and feel paralyzed for a short period of time (seconds or minutes) when falling asleep or waking up.
- Disturbed nighttime sleep – Many patients have trouble sleeping through the night.
Narcolepsy can be mistaken for other sleep disorders that cause daytime sleepiness such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.