Narcolepsy Awareness Day

Suddenly Sleepy Saturday

Suddenly Sleepy Saturday , also known as Narcolepsy Awareness Day coincides with the beginning of the US Sleep Awareness Week in March. In 2018 Suddenly Sleepy Saturday was on March 10.

What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles.
Narcoleptics are unique in that they enter REM sleep (the period of sleep when dreams are most likely to
occur) very quickly after falling asleep, even when sleeping during the day. People with narcolepsy usually
feel rested after waking, but then feel very sleepy throughout much of the day. Many individuals with
narcolepsy also experience uneven and interrupted sleep that can involve waking up frequently during the
night so it might look like narcolepts sleep a lot however research shows they do not sleep anymore over
24 hours than what is considered normal.

The main symptom of narcolepsy, and usually the first to appear is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).
Some people may also experience uncontrollable brief episodes of falling asleep during the day known as
a “sleep attack”. Other symptoms include:

Cataplexy is an episode in which strong emotion causes a sudden loss of muscle tone. This sudden loss of
muscle tone while a person is awake leads to weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control. It is often
triggered by sudden, strong emotions such as laughter, fear, anger, stress, or excitement. The symptoms
of cataplexy may appear weeks or even years after the onset of EDS. Some people may only have one or
two attacks in a lifetime, while others may experience many attacks a day. In about 10 percent of cases of
narcolepsy, cataplexy is the first symptom to appear and can be misdiagnosed as a seizure disorder.
Attacks may be mild and involve only a momentary sense of minor weakness in a limited number of
muscles, such as a slight drooping of the eyelids. The most severe attacks result in a total body collapse
during which individuals are unable to move, speak, or keep their eyes open. But even during the most
severe episodes, people remain fully conscious.

Sleep paralysis:
The temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up usually lasts only a few seconds
but it can be very frightening, especially in combination with hallucinations. Sleep paralysis resembles
cataplexy except it occurs at the beginning or the end of sleep. As with cataplexy, people remain fully
conscious. Even when severe, cataplexy and sleep paralysis do not result in permanent
dysfunction—after episodes end, people rapidly recover their full capacity to move and speak.

People with narcolepsy can have vivid, dream-like hallucinations while falling asleep or as they are waking
up. During these episodes, the visions feel real—for example, seeing a person in the bedroom.

Hallucinations are usually visual, however any of the other senses can be involved. Hallucinations that
happen while falling asleep are called hypnagogic and are called hypnopompic if they happen while waking

Other symptoms typically include:

Disrupted nighttime sleep and insomnia:
People with narcolepsy fall asleep quickly however they usually experience difficulties staying asleep at
night. Their sleep may be disrupted by insomnia, vivid dreaming, or other sleep disorders such as sleep
apnea and periodic leg movements.

Cognitive dysfunction (commonly referred to as 'brain fog'):
Problems with memory, automatic behavior*, concentration and attention.
*Performing tasks without consciously knowing it and not remembering you have done them eg: turning off
alarm clocks or answering your phone.

What causes Narcolepsy?
Scientists believed that Type 1 Narcolepsy (narcolepsy with cataplexy) is caused by a lack of the chemical
known as hypocretin (also referred to as orexin) in the brain. Hypocretin is a neurotransmitter involved in
the regulation of the sleep/wake cycle as well as other bodily functions such as blood pressure and
While the cause of the loss of hypocretin is still unknown, current research points to a combination of
genetic and environmental factors that influence the immune system.

Other facts:
- Type 1 Narcolepsy affects an estimated 1 in every 2,000-4,000 people.

- It is equally common in men and women. Symptoms typically begin to occur between the ages of 10 and
30, although narcolepsy can occur at any age.

- The average time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis is seven years. Misdiagnosis is
common. In a recent study, 60% of patients were misdiagnosed. Patients are most often misdiagnosed
with depression, insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.

Type 2 Narcolepsy
- The cause of Type 2 Narcolepsy (without cataplexy) is unknown. Some researchers believe that it could
encompass a variety of different diseases including the incomplete form of Idiopathic Hypersomnia.

- People with Type 2 Narcolepsy do not experience cataplexy and many of them do not experience sleep
paralysis or hallucinations.

- The prevalence of Type 2 Narcolepsy is uncertain because it is not as well studied as Type 1

Click here to download our Factsheet

Narcolepsy Network
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke