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18 March 2010

Papworth’s Sleep Centre raises awareness of narcolepsy on the first European Narcolepsy Day

Papworth Hospital sleep expert and president of the British Sleep Society, Dr John Shneerson, today calls for greater public awareness of the sleep disorder narcolepsy, as figures reveal that 80% of people with the condition are undiagnosed.

Dr John Shneerson, together with colleagues from across Europe, estimate that approximately 1 in 2,000 people suffer from this sleep disorder - the equivalent of 25,000 people in the UK.

Dr Shneerson continued “Narcolepsy is a life-long condition with symptoms often first appearing in adolescence. Symptoms can include excessive daytime sleepiness or disturbed night-time sleep, with two thirds of sufferers also having *cataplexy attacks, during which they suddenly drop to the floor. It can have a devastating effect on the day-to-day lives of sufferers, in some cases affecting their ability to drive or hold down a job. It is therefore important to make sure that the general public is aware of the key symptoms, so that sufferers can be referred to a centre like Papworth for assessment and treatment.”

Treatments in specialist sleep centres like Papworth Hospital are able to help those who are diagnosed, such as 35 year old Claire Allen from Cambridge, who has suffered from narcolepsy and cataplexy for the past five years. Claire said “On a bad day, when I was not taking any medication at all, I could have up to 100 attacks each day, making simple tasks like making a cup of tea extremely problematic. I am now on new medication and the difference to my life is just amazing.”

Key symptoms of narcolepsy

Narcolepsy has a number of symptoms (listed below) that can vary in severity and can often be hard to recognise as they can be put down to other reasons. For example teenagers suffering from narcolepsy may be mistaken for having poor sleeping habits or just being lazy.

Excessive daytime sleepiness – falling asleep at inappropriate times throughout the day.

Disturbed night-time sleep - frequent awakenings throughout the night leading to an unrefreshed feeling in the morning.

* Cataplexy - around two thirds of patients also suffer from cataplexy which is described as a temporary muscle weakness in response to emotional triggers such as laughter, surprise or fear. The severity can range from a mild facial weakness to complete collapse.

Sleep paralysis - an inability to move while being conscious, either at the onset of sleep or on waking.

Vivid, frequently frightening dream-like experiences which occur during the transition between sleep and wakefulness.

Automatic behaviors – purposeful acts performed during the day without recall, as if on ‘autopilot’. Low mood anxiety and depression.

Social introversion / psychosocial problems.

Increasingly sedentary lifestyle.


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