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WHY YOU CAN’T STAY AWAKE: NARCOLEPSY

After apnea, narcolepsy is the next most frequent cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. People with this disorder are prone to transient, overpowering attacks of sleepiness lasting from a few seconds up to thirty minutes, with the average spell lasting about two minutes. Narcoleptics may have up to two hundred such attacks in a single day, even if they have slept well the night before. During an attack the victim’s jaw may grow slack, or the head may drop forward onto the chest. In some cases victims may completely black out, appearing to be asleep or unaware of their actions. In less severe attacks, they are alert but may experience some form of muscle paralysis—their knees may buckle, or they may lose all control over their voluntary muscles. (Some people mistakenly refer to narcolepsy as sleeping sickness. The two are by no means the same: sleeping sickness is a parasitic infection transmitted by insects, including the tsetse fly and the kissing bug. Narcolepsy is also distinguished from seizure disorders like epilepsy in that such symptoms as repetitive movements (lip smacking, for example) and perceived visual auras are rarely present.The term “narcolepsy” was first used more than a century ago,1940s. Today an estimated 250,000 Americans suffer from the condition—more than the number of people afflicted with multiple sclerosis. Although narcolepsy accounts for less than 1 percent of all cases of sleep disorders, sleep laboratories report that narcoleptics make up the second largest group of patients who come to them for help.*150\226\8*

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