What is narcolepsy?
It is the term coined for a sleep disorder characterized minimal to almost zero control over sleepiness. Narcoleptics experience sleep attacks that occur at any moment of the day. Obviously, this has a negative effect on the daily life, as it happens without any warning. The length of an attack can last from a few seconds up to several minutes.
Anyone suffering from narcolepsy knows that it should not be ignored.
Narcolepsy is experienced by one in 2000 people. So, it is not all too rare. If you are one of those inflicted with the disorder, this comprehensive guide to narcolepsy will serve as a God-send to you.
What Are The Known Effects Of Narcolepsy?
- Day-to-day activities that are normally safe might become dangerous if you fall asleep or lose control over your muscles while doing it.
- Because of narcolepsy, people often start being anxious and depressed.
- There is a social stigma for people who are suffering from narcolepsy. Some find it funny and entertaining if you fall asleep in the middle of the task. Of course, this is no laughing matter. Also, it becomes harder for bosses to give narcoleptics more work responsibilities, for fear that they may not be able to perform well.
- Romantic and other personal relationships may suffer. Being sleepy all the time just does not give you enough time to bond with people.
- Narcoleptics have difficulty staying focused and oriented. Memory problems are also seen in patients who have this disorder.
What Are The Known Causes Of Narcolepsy?
The root cause of narcolepsy remains unknown, according to experts. However, genetics seems to be a key player. A trigger from an environmental factor, like a virus, may cause a reaction in the brain that leads to narcolepsy.
Hypocretin or orexin is a chemical found in the brain that stimulates the sense of arousal and sleep regulation. Scientists notice a deficiency of this specific neuropeptide and Hcrt cells (the neurons responsible for the secretion of the neuropeptide) in patients with narcolepsy.
If you are wondering what triggers a narcoleptic attack, the exact factors are yet to be determined. However, not everyone experiences extreme sleep attacks. Below are some of the tell-tale signs of narcolepsy.
What Are The Symptoms Of Narcolepsy?
The symptoms of narcolepsy vary from mild to the grave. Narcoleptics usually experience the same common symptoms, but some suffer from rare extreme ones.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
This is probably the most obvious sign that you are suffering from narcolepsy. Falling asleep during bedtime is easy as pie to most narcoleptics. This particular sleep disorder is unique because it bothers you in the morning. You can get up to ten full hours of sleep during the day and yet, by day the drowsy feeling is here to stay.
Along with the drowsiness is mental confusion and physical exhaustion felt the entire day. Sometimes, fatigue also comes with it. Napping might help, but the symptoms will just return after an hour or so.
This one can be frightening, even though it is not life-threatening. Narcoleptics sometimes feel like they are awake and are very much aware of what is happening with their surroundings. However, they cannot move at all. Some people see fearsome images and hallucinations, while others feel like they are being choked, but cannot seem to snap out of the episode.
Disrupted Sleep At Night
Falling asleep is not a problem, but staying asleep is. The flow of the sleep cycle is disturbed by numerous causes like insomnia, sleep talking, and unnecessary body movements.
Most narcoleptic patients tend to binge eat to avoid feeling depressed. This coping mechanism is an unhealthy and unfavorable habit.
Now, if you are experiencing some of these symptoms, then get yourself checked by a doctor. Narcolepsy can be detected through certain medical tests. Physical exam and sleep studies are also considered.
How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
The physician might recommend you record your sleep pattern on a journal for a week or more. Jot down your sleeping times and wake up times. Also, write down the symptoms you experience during the day.
There are some testing methods, aside from the sleep studies, that seal in the narcolepsy diagnosis:
- Polysomnogram (PSG) is a test taken overnight. This measures the activity in the brain, as well as the muscle activity. The results are measured by the physician to find out if deep sleep and REM occurs at odd times of the sleep cycle.
- Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) is done to measure the person’s ability to fall asleep. It covers four to five short nap times that are scheduled properly during the daytime. This test determines if deep sleep is available during daytime hours.
- The spinal fluid analysis is done to measure the amount of hypocretin found in cerebrospinal fluid. This method is one of the more recent methods to detect narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is incurable (as of the moment). This condition affects both men and women. The symptoms can start at a young age, as early as 7 years old. However, it is more common in adults aged 35 to 45.
Most narcoleptic patients are undiagnosed. Therefore, management of the disease is not utilized. Proper care is required to avoid worsening the impact it has on the daily life. After all, one needs to be alert and active for your work, school, and other social affairs.
How Is Narcolepsy Managed?
A series of treatments and management techniques can help a narcoleptic patient live a normal life. Here we will cover all the areas to work on to improve this condition.
Counseling Efforts Or Support Group For Narcolepsy
Depression can be caused by stress from social stigma, as well as physical and mental limitations. Sleep attacks or cataplexy can make a narcoleptic feel embarrassed. Aside from that, these symptoms are pretty frightening experiences, to begin with. Talking to someone who has been through the same ordeal can help a narcoleptic feel less isolated. Having a community that understands similar suffering can boost courage to better deal the condition. Also, people in the support group can share their own experiences and give great advice on how to make narcolepsy bearable.
Lifestyle Changes For Narcolepsy
One of the best ways to see drastic improvements in a narcoleptic’s life is to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Exercise and diet should be adjusted to lessen the symptoms of narcolepsy in the daytime.
- Fix your sleep schedule. Consider adding nap times of around 15 minutes each. Get adequate sleep every night, preferably at around the same time. If you plan your naps, you can avoid dozing off for abruptly.
- Steer clear of alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee.
- If you must take medicines for your allergies or a cough, choose the non-drowse variety. You would not want to worsen the sleepiness, right?
- Involve others in your situation. Talk to your co-workers about how they can help. Also, request for special considerations. Perhaps you can do some crucial tasks during the periods you are most alert.
- Parents should reach out to the school to disclose the condition of their kids. Maybe they can be provided with nap breaks and a more suitable class schedule.
- Avoid multi-tasking. To avoid getting overwhelmed, focus on one task at a time.
- Get moving. This will make you feel more alive and alert during the daytime.
- Restrict activities that might bring you harm in case you undergo a sleep attack, such as driving, wall climbing, or operating types of machinery. If you must drive, take a good nap beforehand.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Whole grain diet, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein are good for general health. Learn how to time your big meals. Avoid eating too much, if you know you will be doing something important afterward.
- Learn how to manage your emotions. Cataplexy is normally triggered by an upsurge of emotions. Do yoga, meditate, or practice breathing exercises to take charge of how you feel.
- Having a medical bracelet can also come in handy if you have a sudden sleep attack or loss of muscle control.
Medications For Narcolepsy
Medications are taken to manage the most notorious symptoms of narcolepsy, namely cataplexy, and sleepiness. These drugs should be prescribed by the physician. Ritalin and Modafinil are stimulants that can keep a person up and running during the daytime. It keeps the nervous system alert and active.
Other than stimulants, antidepressants are also prescribed. This type of drugs treats narcolepsy by enhancing wakefulness. These drugs are more favorable than stimulants because of fewer side effects. Zoloft, Prozac, and Effexor are some of the most prescribed antidepressants for narcolepsy.
Ensuring a good night’s sleep is one way to avoid sleepiness the following day. To get plenty of rest at night, sedatives like Xyrem are given to patients who are having a hard time with their nocturnal sleep.
Word Of Advice…
Having narcolepsy is unfortunate, but do not let it run your life. If you or someone you know is showing signs of being narcoleptic, this guide will help shed some light on the matter. There are combinations of treatments that can make narcolepsy manageable and tolerable. Do not be discouraged.