Nocturnal sleep and wakefulness patterns of 50 patients with narcolepsy and cataplexy were compared to those of 50 control subjects. A sleep onset REM period (SOREM) occurred in 22 (44% of the patients but in none of the controls. Comparisons among patients showing a SOREM, patients without this abnormality, and controls demonstrated that the timing, number and duration of the remaining REM periods did not differ across the three groups. Thus, the basic REM sleep disturbance in narcolepsy appears to relate to the timing of onset of the initial REM period. This finding lends further support to the theory of dual control of REM-NREM cycling. While narcoleptics took significantly less time to fall asleep, they had significantly more awakenings, wake time after sleep onset and total wake time. The disturbed sleep experienced by patients could not be accounted for by the presence of a sleep onset REM period or the use of medication. Nocturnal wakefulness appeared to be distributed in a regular oscillating manner throughout the recording period similar to the pattern of daytime vigilance previously reported in normal subjects. Thus, typical nocturnal dampening of daytime ultradian vigilance rhythms may be lost in the narcoleptic patient.
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