Many individuals with narcolepsy experience weakness and the sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone (cataplexy). This often occurs during times of intense emotions such as laughter, anger, elation, and/or surprise.
Episodes of cataplexy may occur as short periods of partial muscle weakness and can vary in duration and severity.
In some cases, a cataplectic attack may be barely noticeable. Affected individuals may experience very brief, mild episodes that may cause the knees to buckle, the jaws to sage, the eyelids to droop or the head to drop.
Occasionally in severe cases, there may be an almost complete loss of muscle control that lasts for several minutes. During a severe cataplectic attack, speech and movement may become difficult or impossible although there is no loss of consciousness. Cataplexy may improve as affected individuals grow older.
With cataplexy you lose muscle tone to varying degrees, but are awake and alert. It’s a chemical misfire, your brain thinking you are in REM sleep and paralyzingly you.
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Some people with narcolepsy do not have cataplexy, and cataplexy is not necessary for a diagnosis of narcolepsy. Cataplexy usually develops approximately several weeks to months after the development of excessive daytime sleepiness. In rare cases, cataplexy may precede the development of difficulties in maintaining alertness.