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All You Need to Know About Narcolepsy

Nov 11, 2013

Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that involves periods of extreme and sudden daytime sleepiness in those suffering from the disorder.  These “sleep attacks” are irresistible and can occur at any time and can last for just a few seconds or even several minutes. Contrary to general beliefs, people with this disorder do not sleep more than normal sleepers during a 24-hour period. Usually the problem starts with shorter or few sleep cycles followed by more frequent and deeper sleep stages and eventually after about 90 minutes rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

When it Happens

Narcolepsy usually begins between 15 and 25 years of age, but can occur at any age. Around 50 percent of adults with narcolepsy state that their symptoms started when they were teenagers. Narcolepsy for the most part remains undiagnosed and thus untreated. Those suffering from the disorder can also experience poor sleep quality and sleep disorders like frequent waking during the night. Most adults sleep for about 8 hours normally in up to six separate sleep cycles. People with narcolepsy enter REM cycles within a few minutes after falling asleep.

Causes

Cause of narcolepsy is not known. Recent progress by scientists however has identified genes as a strong association with the problem. These genes control chemical production in the brain that most likely signals awake and sleep cycles. Some scientists and experts believe that narcolepsy can be due to the limited production of hypocretin in the brain, but no definite answers have been found thus far.  

Symptoms

Following are some most commonly found symptoms indicating narcolepsy:

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

This is the most commonly found symptom of narcolepsy. People suffering from the disorder experience excessive sleepiness during daytime which can interfere in normal daily activities. People with EDS experience lack of energy, mental cloudiness, lack of concentration, depression, exhaustion, and memory lapses.

Hallucinations

Mostly hallucinations experienced are quite vivid and frightening. Generally these delusional experiences are visual, but can involve other senses too. There are two types of hallucinations, hypnopompic hallucinations occur during awakening and hypnagogic hallucinations accompany sleep onset.

Cataplexy

Cataplexy is a sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone and the person goes limp and is unable to move while awake.  The symptoms may include slurred speech to a complete body collapse and is generally triggered by experiencing intense emotions like laughter, surprise or anger.

Sleep Paralysis

During sleep paralysis the individual is temporarily unable to move right before sleeping or immediately after waking up. Sleep paralysis can last for just a few seconds or even a few minutes.

Only about 15 percent of people suffering from narcolepsy experience all four systems.

Treatment

Currently there are no treatments available for narcolepsy; however, some symptoms can be treated with the help of lifestyle changes and medicine. Cataplexy is believed to be life-long and irreversible but can be controlled.  Nervous system alerting agents and antidepressants are also available to keep the mind awake.

People with narcolepsy are not able to maintain a normal state of alertness consistently but a peaceful and good night’s sleep can really help control the problem. People with narcolepsy are strongly advised not to drive or get involved in similar activities that can have drastic outcomes.
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