What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that can cause people to fall asleep in everyday, relaxed surroundings – even if they weren’t planning on falling asleep. From the outside, it may appear that such behavior is actually a symptom of severe sleep loss – but in reality, Narcolepsy itself is much more complicated than that.
People who suffer from Narcolepsy may experience daytime sleepiness on an excessive level. They may, for example, undergo ‘sleep attacks’, and randomly fall asleep at different times throughout the day. One of the major differences between Narcolepsy and regular daytime sleepiness is the fact that people who suffer from Narcolepsy often pass right into REM sleep – which is the deeper stage of sleep that usually takes about 90 minutes to reach for the average person.
People afflicted with the condition generally begin to see symptoms sometime between the ages of 15 and 25, though it can really become apparent at any age. In the majority of cases, it remains undiagnosed – which means that it also often goes untreated.
What causes it?
Researchers and scientists are not entirely sure what causes Narcolepsy. Some scientists, however, have made progress in identifying a possible source. There are some genes (those responsible for the production of certain chemicals that signal sleep and awake cycles in the brain) that have been ‘strongly associated’ with the disorder. It’s very possible that a deficiency of the chemical ‘hypocretin’ could have something to do with it as well – but exactly what causes it is still unknown.
More likely than not, a number of factors work together to cause the disorder.
The most common symptoms of Narcolepsy are as follows…
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
- Cataplexy (a loss of muscle tone)
- Slurred speech
- Sleep paralysis
How is it treated?
Unfortunately, Narcolepsy currently has no cure. But with that being said, medicines, therapies, and lifestyle changes can often do a lot to mitigate the symptoms. There are a number of different medicinal approaches to treating the symptoms of Narcolepsy. Here are the ones that are the most prevalent. Doctors may prescribe…
- A stimulant to help raise alertness and combat daytime sleepiness
- A medicine that helps you to sleep better at night
- A medicine that treats depression, as these also tend to help prevent sleep paralysis, cataplexy, and some other symptoms
- A medicine that helps to boost lower levels of hypocretin in the brain
Lifestyle changes can also make an impact. A doctor may, for example, instruct you to try to follow a more regular sleeping schedule. You may also be instructed to do something relaxing before bedtime, to avoid alcohol and tobacco, to stay away from caffeine before bedtime, or to exercise more on a regular basis.
Of course, not all of these approaches will work for everyone – but it is possible that some of them may help to alleviate some of the more serious symptoms of the disorder.
Living with Narcolepsy
Living with Narcolepsy can be especially challenging. It may be difficult for you to stay awake for long enough to drive or operate heavy machinery. It may also impact your ability to work. People with Narcolepsy can often find success in almost any field of work – but jobs with more flexible schedules may help by providing opportunities for naps throughout the day.
People who suffer from the disorder might also face unique emotional challenges. They might, for example, suffer from higher-than-normal levels of stress, anxiety, fear, or depression. There are actually support groups for people with the disorder – so locating something like this in your area may help if you find yourself diagnosed with the condition and find that you’re having trouble coping with it emotionally.
Children who suffer from it can also face difficult challenges. It might impact their ability to perform well at school, may make it more difficult for them to focus, and might also impact their memory in a negative way.
For best results, talk to your doctor immediately if you think that you or someone in your family might be experiencing symptoms of the disorder.