What is narcolepsy, and when does it develop? Do I have to be concerned about my toddler?
Narcolepsy is a rare, chronic neurologic disorder that causes people to have excessive sleepiness during the daytime even though they are getting plenty of sleep at night. People with narcolepsy often describe having trouble sleeping at night, changes in their muscles with laughter or strong emotions, feeling “paralyzed” when waking up from sleep, and having dream-like hallucinations when falling asleep or waking up. They also enter the REM-stage (dream stage) of sleep more quickly than other people.
The symptoms of narcolepsy may start to become apparent in early childhood, and parents may notice that their child is still wanting to take naps when other children his age are no longer doing so. Most of the time, narcolepsy is not diagnosed until a child is school-aged or in his teenage years. It is rare for the symptoms of narcolepsy to be severe enough to be diagnosed in a toddler, and symptoms often have not yet evolved before a child reaches school age. If your toddler has trouble staying awake during the day despite getting at least 12 hours of sleep overnight with adequate naps, your pediatrician or health care provider may evaluate for other more common causes of sleepiness in this age group, such as insufficient nighttime sleep, illness, anemia (low iron), or sleep apnea (a type of sleep disordered breathing), before referring to a sleep specialist to evaluate for narcolepsy.
Also see my post about how often narcolepsy runs in families.
About Dr. Stephanie Jackson