Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder which is caused by the brains’ inability to regulate sleep cycles. At various times during the day, the patient can fall asleep at any time for anything from a few seconds up to a few minutes. The patient has little or no control over falling asleep and it can happen at the most inconvenient and embarrassing times for example, whilst driving, during a meeting or conversation or even during sex.
While Narcolepsy isn't very common, it still affects a lot of people. It normally manifests itself in the patient's teens to early twenties. However, Narcolepsy can start in both the very young and the old.
Causes of Narcolepsy
There is a great deal of debate with regards to what causes Narcolepsy. At this time, there isn't a definitive answer.
What is generally believed though is that the brain’ normal pattern during sleep is that during the first hour, the brains electrical activity reduces. After this hour, the electrical activity starts to increase again. This is accompanied by rapid eye movements (REM) and deep relaxation of your muscles. After a while, the brain electrical activity starts to slow down again. This cycle repeats itself a number of times throughout sleep.
Some investigation has shown that a person suffering from Narcolepsy doesn't follow this same pattern, or rather the initial slowing of the brains electrical activity is a lot quicker than in a non-narcoleptic.
This sleep cycle is controlled by neurones within the brain. For narcoleptics, it has been noted that the hormone Hypocretin is a lot lower than in people who don't suffer from Narcolepsy. Hypocretin it is believed controls the neurones which in turn control the brains activity during sleep.
- Excessive sleepiness in the daytime: A primary characteristic is an uncontrollable need to sleep during the day along with an overwhelming drowsiness. People who suffer from this disorder will fall asleep without warning, anywhere and at anytime. Apart from this, people who are suffering may also experience a decreased alertness throughout the day.
- Abrupt loss of muscle tone (Cataplexy): This is a condition also known as cataplexy, which can cause a range of physical changes from slurred speech to complete weakness of most muscles. This lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. Cataplexy is an uncontrollable condition that is often triggered by intense emotions, usually ones that are positive such as excitement and laughter, though sometimes surprise, fear and anger are also part of it. A few people who suffer from narcolepsy experience one or two episodes in a year while there are others who have numerous episodes.
- Sleep Paralysis: Often people suffering from this disorder experience a temporary inability to speak or move while falling asleep or upon waking. These episodes are frightening and usually last only several seconds to several minutes. Sleep paralysis imitates the type of temporary paralysis that normally takes place during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, i.e. the period of sleep in which dreams occur. This temporary immobility that is experienced during REM sleep may prevent the body from acting out. It is notable that not every person who suffers from sleep paralysis has narcolepsy, however many normal people do experience a few attacks of sleep paralysis, especially in young adulthood.
- Hallucinations: When a person has narcolepsy, they may also have hallucinations. This happens when a person falls quickly into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep as they do at sleep onset at night and periodically during the day. It is at this time you may be semi awake when you begin dreaming and experience your dreams as reality and they may be frightening and vivid.
There is no cure for narcolepsy, but there are lifestyle modifications and medications that can help you deal with the symptoms.
Antidepressants and stimulants are some of the medications that are used to deal with the disorder. It is advised that you consult the doctor if you are suffering from other health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Lifestyle changes to deal with Narcolepsy
Since lifestyle modifications are important in managing the symptoms, here are a few steps that could prove beneficial.
- Adhere to a sleeping schedule. You can do this by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day including weekends.
- Taking naps at regular intervals will also be refreshing and help you stay awake for a few hours.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine as using these substances may worsen the signs and symptoms associated with narcolepsy.
- Exercise regularly as this will help you feel more awake during the day and also help you sleep better at night.
Making a few lifestyle changes for the better will certainly help you more than anything else. A healthy body and a healthy mind will help you overcome almost all problems. Exercise, eat right
, and stay happy!