01/26/2012 03:08 pm ET

5 Tips For Battling Cataplexy

Cataplexy is a rare disorder that usually affects people with narcolepsy. We spoke to Roxanne Valentino, M.D., medical director of the St. Thomas Center for Sleep in Nashville, Tennessee, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have cataplexy, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Shellie Braeuner

Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone when people are wide awake and is often triggered by an emotional response. According to Dr. Valentino, the sufferer may fall to the ground, as the legs are unable to support the body. "This disorder is almost always a symptom of narcolepsy," she says.

Talk To A Doctor

If you suffer from cataplexy, chances are that you also suffer from narcolepsy. "Narcolepsy can be a serious medical condition," says Dr. Valentino. "But there are treatments available. Anyone who shows signs or symptoms of narcolepsy, including cataplexy, should see a doctor immediately."

Get An EEG

An EEG, or electroencephalogram, measures brain activity through small electrodes taped to the head. The EEG shows abnormal brain activity that indicates narcolepsy and a doctor will most likely order one for cataplexy sufferers.

Request A Sleep Study

"In order to diagnose narcolepsy and rule out other issues, you will need a sleep study," says Dr. Valentino. By checking the brain patterns while sleeping, a doctor can rule out other causes for cataplexy.


There is evidence that strong emotions affect cataplexy, which is why sufferers should try to prevent themselves from being overcome by them. "Don't let worry take over your life, either," advises Dr. Valentino. There are treatments for narcolepsy, including lifestyle changes and medication, that help most people.

Keep Yourself Safe

According to Dr. Valentino, you should take simple measures to keep yourself safe, like sitting down if you feel an overwhelming sense of emotion. In addition, don't drive while trying out new medications for narcolepsy.

Roxanne Valentino, M.D., earned her medical degree from the Ohio State University. She completed her residency at the Cleveland Clinic, followed by a fellowship there specializing in sleep medicine and neurophysiology. Dr. Valentino is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in clinical neurophysiology.

Have you ever suffered from a sleep disorder? What worked for you?