"He's not the typical case, although the fact that he is now being identified as having narcolepsy does exemplify the fact that many people can go years and years without getting the proper diagnosis," Rosenberg said. "Who knows if they have a sleep specialist or sleep laboratory in Springfield?"
Typical patients start to show symptoms of narcolepsy when they are in their teens or 20s, although Rosenberg has seen patients as young as 2 years. Although Homer's age is difficult to pin down -- he hasn't aged much since the show debuted in December 1989 -- he's generally portrayed as being in his late 30s.
Along with excessive daytime sleepiness, people with narcolepsy usually have sleep attacks, or involuntarily episodes of slumber. These attacks can strike even when patients are doing something they enjoy, such as spending time with friends, Rosenberg said. Children may fall asleep in the middle of an activity at school, even if they are engaged in it.
About half of people with narcolepsy also have cataplexy, which causes them to lose muscle control when they feel strong emotions, such as when they're laughing, surprised or angry. Their facial muscles may droop or they may fall down. "This can be embarrassing (and) people try to blunt their emotions," Rosenberg said.
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Do you share a sleep disorder with Homer Simpson? Visit our Current Studies page to learn about research studies now enrolling for narcolepsy patients!