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Sleep Disorders

Cataplexy or not?

11/30/2007

Question:

I`m not sure whether that the symptoms that I have is cataplexy or not... There has been some times, when my mind wants to wake up but when I want to open my eyes, I can`t... My whole body will not move, not even my fingers...which what I have just known as a symptom of cataplexy... Is this symptoms that I have is cataplexy? I do have realized though that it only happens sometimes when it is a bit late (around 9-11am) and I still haven`t woken up... well that`s all for my questions, thank you.. ^^

Answer:

Actually what you have sounds like sleep paralysis. This is the inability to move during the transition from sleep to wake or vice versa. Cataplexy is the complete or partial loss of muscle tone in response to strong emotion (crying, laughter, etc.). Both of these symptoms can occur with narcolepsy, however sleep paralysis can occur in other sleep disorders as well as in normal individuals.

Sleep paralysis is usually described as the inability to perform voluntary movements either at sleep onset or upon awakening. Individuals often report an inability to speak or move the limbs, trunk or head. Breathing is not affected and individuals can recall the event. The episode typically only lasts for seconds up to a few minutes and tends to resolve on its own. Occasionally, the episode will end if the person is touched or spoken to. When sleep paralysis is associated with awakening from sleep, it usually occurs while the individual is still in bed and not after getting up walking around.

Surprisingly, up to 15-40% of young adults experience this at least once in their lifetime and as many as 5-6% have this occur recurrently. Episodes of sleep paralysis can be very anxiety producing. Hallucinations, whether hearing or seeing things that are not present, can accompany the event. All-in-all, the experience can be somewhat frightening. Sleep paralysis can be brought on by lack of adequate sleep, keeping an irregular sleep schedule and being under excessive stress.

If this symptom is frequent and is associated with other sleep problems (especially daytime sleepiness), then I would recommend seeing a Sleep Specialist, who could rule out narcolepsy, sleep apnea and other causes of your sleep paralysis.

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Response by:

James   Knepler, MD James Knepler, MD
Formerly, Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati