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Narcolepsy: How to Care for Your Child

Narcolepsy is a disorder that affects the sleep-wake cycle. Kids with narcolepsy feel very sleepy during the day. They can fall asleep suddenly, lose muscle control and have other problems related to sleep. 

Health care providers treat narcolepsy with medicine, scheduled napping and a regular sleep routine.

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Follow your health care provider's recommendations on:

  • prescribed medicine 

  • over-the-counter medicines (some can make your child's narcolepsy worse) 

  • your child's nap and nighttime sleep routine 

  • activities your child may need to avoid (such as biking and driving)

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  • Symptoms don't improve after following your health care provider's recommendations.

  • Your child seems sad or worried about dealing with narcolepsy.

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What causes narcolepsy? Doctors and scientists don't know the exact cause of narcolepsy. It could be a problem with the balance of some neurotransmitters (chemicals that send signals in the brain). These neurotransmitters tell the brain when to sleep and when to be awake.

What other problems can narcolepsy cause? All kids with narcolepsy have tiredness during the day. They also may have:

  • Sleep attacks. This is when a child unintentionally falls asleep during the day. The child can't control when this happens.

  • Cataplexy. This is when a child loses muscle control. The muscles suddenly go limp. It may happen to one or a few muscles. For example, the jaw may go slack or the knees may feel weak. Sometimes all muscles go limp and the child falls to the ground. Cataplexy usually happens during strong emotions.

  • Sleep paralysis. This is when a child can't move or speak upon waking up in the morning. It usually lasts 1 to 2 minutes.

  • Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. Hallucinations are when someone sees, hears, smells or feels something that isn't there. Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are vivid, dreamlike images that kids with narcolepsy can have when they are falling asleep or waking up.

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