By Sandra K Adams
Most commonly, Narcolepsy presents itself as an illness called EDS - Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. This is the persistent feeling being tired, lacking real energy and wanting to sleep. The sufferer has to make concerted efforts to remain awake, but even if he or she is able to do so, it is often only to achieve a semi-wakeful state that onlookers often describe as "trance like or as if the individual is "on auto pilot". At unfortunate moments, the feeling can be so strong that it appears to anyone looking on that the sufferer may be drunk.
Typically, people suffering from Narcolepsy and Excessive Daytime Sleepiness need to have a period of sleep before attempting and specific task. Failing to prepare in this manner can result in a sudden attack of sleep while performing said task. EDS is regularly treated with stimulants, such as Ritalin, in America. This drug helps to stimulate the central nervous system to keep the individual alert and awake. Other newer drugs are in development that work as similar "wake promoters".
The second main characteristic of narcolepsy is cataplexy, the sudden loss of control over the muscles in your body. This can vary in severity from individual to individual, and most good doctors suggest that if the symptoms are not severe enough, treatment should simply be avoided. The drugs commonly used to treat this problem are those in the antidepressant range. Cataplexy is not directly linked to depression, but the side effects of these drugs happen to affect the neurological pathways that themselves cause cataplexy.
These drugs are usually either tricyclic agents, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, SSRIs. Paralysis during sleep and hallucinations can also be left without treatment from drugs unless they are particularly severe or extreme. As they typically only occur during the night, they cause less of a problem to the sufferer. Regardless, the treatments for cataplexy will usually also reduce the severity of these two auxiliary symptoms.
Strong advice comes from other sufferers of narcolepsy - take naps! There is good clinical evidence that taking some frequent naps during the day will help offset the symptoms of EDS and cataplexy. Many claim that simply sleeping for a few minutes at a time before performing a task can guard against a sleep attack happening during that task.