This Is What Narcolepsy Looks Like, Apparently

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It must be pretty darn scary to have narcolepsy, at least judging by the way it looks in this video, in which a young woman accidentally catches her own narcoleptic sleep attack on camera. The YouTube clip was published in July, but is just now achieving viral status thanks to a post on Reddit over the weekend.  

Her collapse and subsequent confusion seem bizarre — even slightly fake, to be honest. But the sleep disorder experts Science of Us contacted, including Emmanuel Mignot, director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, said that this really does look like narcolepsy.

Specifically, Mignot said, this looks like narcolepsy with cataplexy. Most people who have narcolepsy, the brain disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, also have cataplexy; this is that sudden muscle weakness that for this woman caused a collapse. In others, the weakness can be very subtle, causing just a slight drooping of the eyelids, for example. Cataplexy can occur spontaneously, as it seems to in this video, and though it’s not clear what causes it, the National Institutes of Health offers this as explanation:

The loss of muscle tone during a cataplectic episode resembles the interruption of muscle activity that naturally occurs during REM sleep.  A group of neurons in the brain stem halts activity during REM sleep, inhibiting muscle movement.  Using an animal model, scientists have learned that this same group of neurons becomes inactive during cataplectic attacks, a discovery that provides a clue to at least one of the neurological abnormalities contributing to human narcoleptic symptoms.

Interesting! Now, off you go, back to fighting off your own post-lunch sleep attack.