Nodding off during class is nothing new for many teens. But for some, daytime drowsiness may be caused by more than late nights. Narcolepsy can impact children, teenagers and adults alike.

“Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition,” says Kelvin Yamada, MD, a Washington University sleep medicine specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Parents and teachers need to understand the condition’s symptoms. Children who have narcolepsy are not lazy. They have a disease.”

A neurological disorder characterized by daytime sleepiness and nighttime sleep disruption, narcolepsy affects 1 in 2,000 Americans, according to the American Sleep Association. Most of these cases begin during adolescence and young adulthood. According to Dr. Yamada, they often go undetected.

“Undiagnosed narcolepsy can interfere with learning and daily activities and lead to behavioral and psychological problems,” he says. “Treatment and a regular sleep schedule can greatly help.”

Does Your Child Have Narcolepsy?
Consider taking a child to a sleep specialist if he exhibits any of the following symptoms:

  • cataplexy—brief episodes of muscle weakness provoked by laughter and other emotions
  • daytime sleepiness
  • hallucinations when falling asleep or waking up
  • sleep paralysis—inability to move when falling asleep or waking up


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