Narcolepsy is a chronic (ongoing) sleep disorder that causes a frequent and overwhelming need to sleep during the day, even despite getting enough nighttime sleep.
This sleeping disorder is a chronic neurological condition that impacts the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-and-wake cycles. Children with narcolepsy need/want to sleep during the day despite a restful night.
Narcolepsy symptoms often go undiagnosed and can appear all at once or develop over a period of years. It impacts both boys and girls and usually begins in adolescence (age 10 to 19) – most people are diagnosed between the ages of 15 to 30.
There are two types of narcolepsy. Children with both types experience extreme daytime sleepiness, but they may or may not have cataplexy.
Cataplexy is a brief and sudden loss of muscle control that is temporary, which can involve the entire body or one specific muscle group. It’s often triggered by anger, stress or strong positive emotions (laughing). Children may also have low or absent CSF hypocretin-1 levels. Hypocretin/orexin is a chemical in the brain that regulates wakefulness and appetite.
Children will have the typical symptoms of narcolepsy but will not have the loss of muscle control associated with cataplexy.
The symptoms of narcolepsy can vary from mild to life-altering. They can develop at once or slowly appear throughout the years. The main symptom is extreme sleepiness during the day. Other symptoms can include:
The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown. Researchers believe the decrease or loss of certain brain chemicals (hypocretin and orexin) that help keep us awake can impact the central nervous system (the network of nerve cells and fibers which transmits nerve impulses between parts of the body), and the brain’s regulation of sleep and wakefulness. Experts think the cells that produce these critical chemicals may have been damaged during an autoimmune response when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells.