I was sitting across the table from my biology study partner on a Saturday afternoon, when I noticed he was awfully quiet all of a sudden. I looked up from my laptop and I saw him slumped back in his chair, eyes closed, one hand still on the keyboard. I jumped up, ran around the table and shook him by the shoulder. “Are you okay?” I yelled in his ear. His eyes snapped open and for a couple of seconds, he seemed completely disoriented. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” he mumbled.
That was my first introduction to narcolepsy, and not knowing anything about it, I was scared to death. I thought my friend was in the middle, or worse, the end of a heart attack. He reassured me that wasn’t the case when he was fully awake. He said, “Ever hear of narcolepsy?”
Since that afternoon many years ago, I’ve learned a lot about narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Bouts of falling asleep without warning
- In some cases, cataplexy, the loss of muscle control
- Sleep paralysis
When narcolepsy isn’t part of the picture, the body of a sleeping person in the state of sleep known as REM sleep, is paralyzed. This prevents us from acting out our dreams. For example, if you feel like you’re going to fall off a cliff, you might roll off the bed. Sleep paralysis, in theory, stops that from happening. But what happens if you’re in that land of half-asleep and half-awake when sleep paralysis occurs? Simply, it’s like dreaming while you’re awake.
I ran into my old study partner not too long ago, and I’m happy to say he’s doing very well. He ended up seeing a sleep specialist and is being treated for his narcolepsy. He encourages anyone who has symptoms of narcolepsy to talk to their doctor and get help.