Diagnosing narcolepsy is relatively easy when all the symptoms are present. But if the sleep attacks are isolated and cataplexy is mild or absent, diagnosis is more difficult.
Two tests that are commonly used in diagnosing are:
- Multiple Sleep Latency Test
These tests are usually performed by a sleep specialist.
The polysomnogram involves continuous recording of sleep brain waves and a number of nerve and muscle functions during nighttime sleep. When tested, people with narcolepsy fall asleep rapidly, enter REM sleep early, and may awaken often during the night. The polysomnogram also helps to detect other possible sleep disorders tht could cause daytime sleepiness.
For the multiple sleep latency test, a person is given a chance to sleep very 2 hours during normal wake times. Observations are made of the time taken to reach various stages of sleep. This test measures the degree of daytime sleepiness and also detects how soon REM sleep begins. People with narcolepsy fall asleep rapidly and enter REM sleep early.
Unfortunately, this disorder is often misdianosed as fatigue, depression, or some other form of mental illness. Sufferers typcially experience symptoms for a decade or longer before the disorder is diagnosed.
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Source and Suggested Reading:
Swanson, Jennifer. Sleep Disorders Sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1999.
Wolfson, Amy R., PH.D. The Woman's Book of Sleep. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2001.