People suffering from narcolepsy often find it hard to stay awake during most parts of the day. The exact cause of this sleep disorder is not known yet. However, research indicates some abnormal signaling in the brain and some genetic factors behind this disease.
What is narcolepsy?
A chronic sleep disorder that has sudden sleep attacks and daytime drowsiness is known as narcolepsy. It can cause severe disruptions in your daily routine. People with narcolepsy find it challenging to stay awake for a long time, irrespective of the circumstances. Sometimes a sudden loss of muscle tone also accompanies narcolepsy, This is called cataplexy that can be triggered by a strong emotion. While narcolepsy that happens with cataplexy is known as type 1 narcolepsy; narcolepsy that occurs without cataplexy is called type 2 narcolepsy.
Unfortunately, this sleep disorder does not have a permanent cure yet. The normal process of falling asleep starts with a phase known as NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. During NREM phase, the brain waves slow down considerably. After one hour or so of NREM sleep, the brain activity changes, and REM sleep starts. Most dreaming happens during the REM sleep.
However, in narcolepsy the person may enter into REM sleep suddenly without first experiencing NREM sleep, both at night and during the day.
What are it’s causes and symptoms?
A neurochemical named hypocretin regulates the pattern of our falling asleep and waking up. People with narcolepsy have a deficient level of hypocretin, which may be the reason behind this disorder. Sometimes, genetic issues can also be considered a reason behind this disease. Some of the significant symptoms of this disease are,
- Falling asleep anywhere, anytime, without any warning
- Slurred speech or complete weakness of most of the body muscles for a few minutes
- Sleep paralysis for a few minutes
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep that makes the individual start dreaming within 15 minutes of falling asleep, even during daytime
When should you see a doctor?
If you experience these symptoms and this chronic sleep disorder disrupts your personal or social life, you must visit a doctor. The doctor will help you diagnose the condition and suggest ways to improve it.
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What are the risk factors and complications of Narcolepsy?
If you have a family member who has narcolepsy, your chance of developing this sleep disorder increases by 40%. Narcolepsy typically starts when you are 10-30 years old, so this age group has an increased risk of this disease. Some of the significant complications of narcolepsy are,
- You might get seriously misunderstood in your professional areas. For example, people don’t have much idea about narcolepsy, so if you fall asleep continuously in school or the workplace, people may consider you lazy, troubling you mentally and emotionally.
- People with narcolepsy generally have a low metabolism rate. As a result, it can increase their risk of developing excessive weight or obesity.
- Excessive narcolepsy can also cause cataplexy, which will intervene in people’s emotional reactions and thus will affect their intimate relationships.
- People with narcolepsy stay at greater risk of physical injuries. For example, if they have sleep attacks while driving the car or preparing food, it can cause accidents .
What are the treatment options for narcolepsy?
Although there is no permanent cure for the condition, the symptoms can be improved by the following treatment options:
- Central nervous system stimulant drugs can help people stay awake during the day if they have narcolepsy. Drugs like Armodafinil, Modafinil, Sunosi, and Pitolisant are stimulants that can help with this disease. These are not addictive and may help in nausea, anxiety, and headache, too. Some people require treatment with methylphenidate (or various amphetamines.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are also standard treatment options for Narcolepsy. It will suppress the REM sleep condition and thus will prevent sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and cataplexy.
- Tricyclic antidepressants are also suitable for helping people with narcolepsy deal with cataplexy symptoms. The drugs mentioned above may cause side effects like lightheadedness and dry mouth.
- Sodium oxybate improves the nighttime sleeping pattern of people but in higher doses may help the daytime sleep problem too and the catalepsy.
- Before going to bed, avoid heavy meals, caffeine, or alcohol because they can keep you awake at night and make you drowsy the entire day. Instead, it is better to take a warm bath, read a book, or do something more relaxing before bedtime. Regular physical exercise can also help you sleep at night
Narcolepsy does not have a cure yet, so lifestyle changes and medications are the only way to treat this disease. These drugs may control the symptoms of narcolepsy. However, if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you should inform your doctor before taking these medicines.
Frequently Added Questions (FAQs)
How will doctors diagnose narcolepsy?
Ans: Checking a detailed sleep history of the patient, asking for sleep records, and polysomnography . Multiple sleep latency test which determines how long it takes a person to fall asleep during the day may also be done.
Is narcolepsy considered a disability?
Ans: No, narcolepsy is not considered a disability .