Too Often, Doctors Overlook Narcolepsy
By JANE E. BRODY, Columnist
In someone without a sleep disorder, it typically takes about 12 minutes to fall asleep; the rapid eye movement stage of sleep, so-called dream sleep, occurs after more than an hour of non-R.E.M. sleep. Clea’s test showed that she fell asleep almost immediately and quickly lapsed into R.E.M. sleep.
In normal R.E.M. sleep, muscles become paralyzed in a sense to prevent people from acting out their dreams. In someone with narcolepsy, the R.E.M. stage is often accompanied by muscle movements that result in restlessness and frequent awakenings.
The disordered nights are reflected in excessive daytime sleepiness, which in turn can cause mental fogginess, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, depression, extreme exhaustion and sometimes memory lapses.
After their unavoidable naps, people with narcolepsy are only briefly refreshed. Within an hour or two, the uncontrollable sleepiness recurs.
Many Missed Diagnoses
Studies suggest that narcolepsy is far more common than most doctors realize. The Center for Narcolepsy at Stanford University estimates that the condition affects one person in 2,000. Most cases are undiagnosed and untreated. Misdiagnosis is very common, as well, with narcolepsy mistaken for laziness, depression, schizophrenia or an attention disorder.