Diagnosing Narcolepsy: Important technics to confirm this disorder

Posted in Narcolepsy

Diagnosing narcolepsy is a challenge. Sometimes symptoms may point to another sleep disorders. Detecting this sleep disorder at the earliest avoids future problems. This article details different tools used for diagnosing narcolepsy.

When to take a test for narcolepsy?

Dear Friend,

First, I want to apologize for delaying this article. A lot I have invested in learning how the web works.

It’s true, diagnosing Narcolepsy requires few medical tests. However, some symptoms help in primarily diagnosing narcolepsy disorder. Often doctors perform the physical examination. They also record medical histories. Then the combination of both helps in diagnosing narcolepsy.

Detecting narcolepsy One or two major symptoms can not conclude the final diagnosis. Below questions determine whether the person would be tested for narcolepsy.
1. Do you get the sudden urge to sleep? Does this happen despite having enough sleep at night?
2. Did you sleep while performing daily activities? Activities like eating, speaking or even working?
3. How long you remain alerted after having enough sleep? Is duration of alertness is minimized?
Positive answers to above questions usually point to narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is not a common disorder. Around 25-28% of narcolepsy individuals have finalized the diagnosis by means of below tests. Practitioners often struggle while diagnosing narcolepsy. And sometimes its due to the duration of symptoms expression. It may take 5-7 years from the onset to conclude this sleeping disability.

Age group and Narcolepsy

Although uncommon, this sleep disorder may start at any age. Typical onset is found in between 10 to 30 years of life. However, there of few examples where the onset of narcolepsy was reported after 35 years. In rare cases, this sleep disorder was detected even after the 5th decade.

Diagnosing narcolepsy in elderly patientsCertainly, there are many myths about this sleeping disability. Because of misinformation, many fear for their prolonged sleepiness. However, sleep disorders like chronic insomnia maybe the reason. In fact, diagnosing narcolepsy is the complex thing. Hence it must be done by the qualified physician.

As such, there is no correlation between narcolepsy symptoms severity and age of onset. Narcolepsy cases identified in age group 40-50 are due to other neurological illnesses. For example sleeping disability due to Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or trauma could be referred as secondary narcolepsy. In addition, sleeping pattern alters in elderly individuals. Hence comparatively diagnosing narcolepsy in elderly patients is the complex task.

In addition, sleeping pattern alters in elderly individuals. Hence comparatively diagnosing narcolepsy in elderly patients is the complex task.

To emphasize, diagnosing narcolepsy requires expert supervision and judgment.

Another key point to remember. Diagnosing narcolepsy is difficult when cataplexy is mild or absent. Moreover, cataplexy may occur in an isolation.

International Classification of Sleep Disorders

Let’s see what International Classification of Sleep Disorders stands for. As per ICSD, primary hypersomnia syndromes maybe due to narcolepsy. Also idiopathic hypersomnia or recurrent hypersomnias maybe the reasons.

Diagnosing narcolepsy technicsICSD defines narcolepsy as excessive sleepiness. It defines narcolepsy typically associated with cataplexy and other REM-sleep phenomena. For example sleep phenomena like sleep paralysis and hypnagogic hallucinations.

The ICSD established baseline categorical standards for diagnosis of narcolepsy. It has 2 sets of well-defined criteria. Let we discuss the second one.

1] Complaint of excessive sleepiness or sudden muscle weakness
2] Associated features that include:

  • sleep paralysis
  • disrupted major sleep episode
  • hypnagogic hallucinations automatic behaviors.

3] Polysomnography with one or more of the following:

  • sleep latency less than 10 minutes
  • REM sleep latency less than 20 minutes
  • an MSLT with a mean sleep latency less than 5 minutes
  • two or more sleep-onset REM periods (SOREMPs)

4] No medical or mental disorder accounts for the symptoms


Important tests used for diagnosing narcolepsy

Let we discuss 3 important tests used for diagnosing narcolepsy.

Epworth Sleepiness Scale

We are describing the method below for our readers only for their information purpose. Kindly note that we do not use this scale (or any other such tool) for Online Homoeopathy Consultation. 

Interested readers should approach for the detail information about this scale on ESS official site.

This scale, in particular, measures daytime sleepiness. The short questionnaire administered to assess sleep problems. The patient rates the probability of falling asleep during daily activities. The resultant value used for diagnosing narcolepsy.

Below is general interpretation of ESS score as published on the official website

  • 0-5 Lower Normal Daytime Sleepiness

  • 6-10 Higher Normal Daytime Sleepiness

  • 11-12 Mild Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

  • 13-15 Moderate Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

  • 16-24 Severe Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

Questions for diagnosing narcolepsyThe scale includes certain questions directing to a specific sleep disorder. This scale provided the useful tool for diagnosing narcolepsy.
Additionally, the scale defines sleep quality. It compares sensitivity and specificity of other similar measurements of sleep quality.
Be comfortable while answering these questions. Describe your sleep patterns correctly. Your accurate responses will help in diagnosing narcolepsy.

The questionnaire for detecting narcolepsy

The questionnaire provides daily life situations. One has to score his likelihood of dozing while in a given situation. For example, activities like sitting or watching TV. The below-mentioned scale is applied while diagnosing narcolepsy.

Diagnosing Narcolepsy with cataplexy
0: would never doze or sleep
1: slight chance of dozing or sleeping
2: moderate chance of dozing or sleeping
3: high chance of dozing or sleeping

Polysomnogram (PSG)

This is the multi-parametric test. The test is intended to diagnosing narcolepsy and similar sleep disorders. It is abbreviated as PSG. The study records bio-physiological changes that occur during sleep. This test is usually performed during the night. However, in the case of shift workers, it can be carried away during the daytime.
This is the non-invasive and painless test for diagnosing narcolepsy.

PSG procedure

The PSG includes EEG study for the brain. It also includes EOG test for measuring eye movements. The testing includes muscle activities (EMG) and heart rhythm (ECG) are records. Along with diagnosing narcolepsy, this test rules out other sleep disorders also.
The person appears in the sleep lab in the early evening. It usually takes 1-2 hours to wired him up. Multiple channel data being recorded after he falls asleep. Such sleep labs are set in hospitals. However, some medical offices or even hotels provide such facility. The sleep physician attends and monitors the test. The patient can be discharged in the early morning.


Nowadays one can conduct the test in his home. This adds to the patient comfort value.

The scorer reviews test data. The resultant information details the sleep onset, sleep efficiency and sleep stages.
The study also records breathing irregularities, cardiac rhythm abnormalities, leg movements, body positions while sleeping and oxygen saturation.
Only the sleep physician can interpret the data accurately. Ideally, medical history details and other relevant details help in diagnosing narcolepsy.


Multiple Sleep Latency Test

This sleep test is abbreviated as MSLT. While diagnosing narcolepsy like sleep disorders, this test measures sleep latency. Sleep latency means the time elapsed from start of the daytime nap to the first sign of sleep. The test follows one important principle.

How to diagnose narcolepsyMore sleepy the person is, he will fast fall asleep. This test is used extensively for diagnosing narcolepsy. Additionally, this test differentiates tiredness from true sleepiness. In fact, this test determines how the person falls asleep in favorable conditions. It measures the variations and their consistency. It also measures REM sleep pattern. Hence diagnosing narcolepsy or other disorders becomes easier.
Usually, this test carried out during the daytime. The test completes within 8 hours. Approximately 4 to 5 nap data recorded. The patient takes nap for 20 minutes. He repeats nap after 2 hours. The test also records EEG, patient’s muscle activities, and eye movements.

MSLT Procedure for diagnosing narcolepsy and other sleep disorders


Avoid stimulants like tea, coffee or chocolates
Formal sleep study a night before
Urine test to rule out substances that may interfere sleeping patterns.
Pre-test questionnaire


  • First, technician attaches the electrodes to the patient’s head EEG for diagnosing narcolepsy
  • Then technician attaches the electrodes to patient’s eyes
  • The technician then attaches electrodes to patient’s chin
  • The technician wires patient chest for ECG
  • Patient can perform simple tasks when asked
  • The patient takes nap for 20 minutes
  • Electrodes attached to head record patient’s brain activity, electrodes attached to eyes record eye movements. The chin electrodes record muscle activities.The chest electrodes record the cardiac rhythm.
  • After 20 minutes patient makes awake. The patient repeats nap after 2 hours. Total 4-5 naps recorded.
  • The patient completes the post-test questionnaire.
  • The electrode sensors record the data while the patient was awake and in sleep. Transmit data determines the REM sleep.
  • The sleep specialist reviews the results while diagnosing narcolepsy or other sleep disorders.

Diagnosing Narcolepsy with Cataplexy

Questions used for confirming and diagnosing narcolepsyEvaluation of narcolepsy symptoms should be proper. Otherwise, it remains unnoticed for years.

We often overlook sleepiness in this busy life. Diagnosing narcolepsy at the earliest is the real challenge. So far we have discussed the tools and techniques used while diagnosing narcolepsy. However, the patients having narcolepsy with cataplexy require different questionnaire. It is termed as Ullanlinna Narcolepsy Scale (UNS).
The 11-item scale (range 0-44) assesses the two main features of the narcoleptic syndrome, the abnormal sleeping tendency, and cataplexy.
The scores also differentiate patients with narcolepsy syndrome and patients with sleep apnea, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.
This address will provide you more details.

Ok. I guess enough I have detailed for diagnosing narcolepsy. Although uncommon, it is important to detect this sleep disorder at the earliest.


Share this health information..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × three =