Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that results in the brain having difficulty in regulating sleep and wakefulness. The result is that an affected person will experience excessive sleepiness during the day.
The sleepiness can occur in phases throughout the day. A person suffering from Narcolepsy may just suddenly fall asleep without warning, or experience difficulty with muscle control.
Narcolepsy can be dangerous as it can occur at any time, whilst one is driving or at work or whilst having a good time with friends and family.
Teenagers and young people aged between 15-25 years are most commonly affected.
The sleep lapses that occur with Narcolepsy do not follow the normal sleep cycle which starts with the Non-rem sleep (nrem sleep), usually lasting 5-15 minutes, and is a light sleep stage, followed by the REM stage of sleep that usually lasts around 15-25 minutes .
People with narcolepsy have the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep occurring almost as soon as the sleep cycle commences, this stage can occur as early as 15 minutes into the sleep cycle, rather than the normal 90-110 minutes.
The REM stage can also occur during waking hours. Remembering that dreams occur during the REM stage, people with Narcolepsy are more likely to experience lucid dreaming, nightmares and also to remember their dreams. The line between sleep and wakefulness is much more blurred for people suffering from Narcolepsy.
Causes of Narcolepsy
Signs and symptoms of Narcolepsy
• Excessive sleepiness during the day: This is the main symptom of this sleep disorder and means that it becomes very difficult to carry out the normal activities of the day, even if a person had a healthy nighttime sleep the previous night. A sudden sleep attack is a primary indicator of this sleep disorder.
•Lack of concentration: Low energy levels, memory lapses, low mood and extreme fatigue are all symptoms too.
• Sleep Paralysis: This is an often scary experience, that involves a temporal paralysis characterized by the inability to move or speak when falling asleep or waking up. Sleep paralysis episodes are normally brief but can be quite disturbing.
•Hypnagogic Hallucination : Daytime delusions and hallucinations are commonly experienced by those suffering from Narcolepsy. These events are a little like daydreaming and tend to be mostly visual in nature.
• Cataplexy: This is a condition characterized by lack of voluntary muscle control or the sudden contraction of muscles resulting in general bodily weakness. It can also cause slurred speech, and in extreme cases, can result in total collapse depending on the muscles involved. Cataplexy is usually triggered by intense emotions such as laughter, anger or excitement.
It is possible to have either narcolepsy with cataplexy and narcolepsy without cataplexy. The latter condition involves only the excessive sleepiness and dream symptoms but without the muscle tone involvement.
Diagnosis of Narcolepsy
Drugs and Treatment of Narcolepsy
A person with any of the above symptoms of Narcolepsy should seek medical attention and advice. Some of the drugs offered by medical practitioners to treat narcolepsy include:
• Ritalin: which helps to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness and improves alertness. There are concerns though that this drug may become ineffective if used continuously for long periods. Therefore, some doctors advise people with narcolepsy to abstain from taking it for one day every week, maybe at the weekend when there is no work.
• Armodafinil Nuvigil : This medication is also used to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness. Headache and nausea are the most common side effects.
• Sodium Oxybate : This controversial drug has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of daytime sleepiness.
DIY Remedies for Narcolepsy.
Alternatively, you can help treat the symptoms of narcolepsy yourself by developing and maintaining good habits related to how you spend your day and also how you prepare to sleep. These include:
•Regular Sleep time and Duration. The duration of sleep should be adequate usually around 7-8 hours per night. A regular bedtime should be observed and adhered to each night.
•Taking naps during the day and between various activities that one is involved in. Two to three naps of around 15 minutes a time per day, should be enough and may significantly reduce symptoms.
• Avoid heavy meals and alcohol. Both can interfere with sleep. Also drugs such as nicotine, caffeine and other stimulants which affect sleep pattern, should be avoided. Maintain a healthy diet and ensure that you take regular exercise.
•Avoid operating plants, dangerous machinery and driving when you feel weak or tired due to the dangers of falling asleep unexpectedly.
•Limit Stress: Take up relaxation or meditation. Join a Narcolepsy support group to discuss symptoms and the effects on lifestyle, work and relationships