GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – 50 to 70 million Americans struggle with a sleep disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Narcolepsy is a condition characterized by extreme sleepiness during the day and falling asleep suddenly during the day.

Dr. Ahmad Boota, an expert in sleep medicine, said although those are the most common symptoms, it doesn’t always mean you have narcolepsy.

There are other things doctors look for when making a diagnosis.

“Cataplexy is highly suggestive of narcolepsy. And the simplest way to understand, it is basically emotionally triggered. Sudden weakness in your muscles, especially facial muscles, and leg muscles, for example. And that is usually by laughing or telling a joke that kind of stuff,” said Dr. Boota.

Someone with narcolepsy may also experience hallucinations.

“Like thinking there are things around you or you’re hearing things not actually present,” said Dr. Boota.

Dr. Boota said the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but genetics or autoimmune diseases could play a role.

If you are struggling with daytime sleepiness, doctors will first try to rule out sleep apnea. If it’s not that, you may need to do a nap test.

Dr. Boota said, “Then the patient will need to stay in the sleep lab for the next day to do what we call multiple sleep latency tests.”

Every two hours, the patient is given an opportunity to sleep for 20 minutes or more. Doctors are looking at how quickly they fall asleep.

“So, if the patient has a tendency to fall asleep rather quickly, with the average, you know, sleep latency, eight minutes or less, and they develop REM asleep, to actually have REM sleep during the nap, then that makes it very highly suggestive narcolepsy,” said Dr. Boota.

Narcolepsy is most often treated with medication.

“Once we confirm the diagnosis of narcolepsy, there are two different things we need to do to improve and treat narcolepsy. Number one we need to improve nighttime sleep. Narcoleptic patients have a lot of sleep disruption and fragmentation of their sleep. So, that means you may need to have some sort of sleep aid or medication to help with that.”

Dr. Ahmad Boota, Sleep Medicine, Bon Secours St. Francis

The second thing doctors will do to treat narcolepsy, Dr. Boota said, is to prescribe a stimulant to treat daytime sleepiness.

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