Narcolepsy

Woman sleeping standing up against wallNarcolepsy is an illness characterized by excessive and inappropriate daytime sleepiness. People with narcolepsy may experience attacks during which they suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times such as while driving, operating machinery, or taking a test. In normal sleep, the progression to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a slow one. People with narcolepsy, however, immediately enter into REM sleep during sleeping attacks.

What Are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy often co-occurs with other sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. The primary symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • Excessive and uncontrollable daytime sleepiness – This sleepiness occurs regardless of how much sleep the narcoleptic had the previous night, but may be exacerbated by insomnia.
  • Cataplexy – Cataplexy is the sudden loss of muscle tone commonly occurs alongside excessive sleepiness and sleeping attacks. Narcoleptics may suddenly feel extremely weak, even paralyzed.
  • HallucinationsBecause people with narcolepsy quickly enter REM sleep, they may be only partially awake at times during the day and suffer from dreamlike hallucinations
  • Sudden bouts of sleepiness with an immediate or near-immediate entry into REM sleep
  • Sleep paralysis – Sleep paralysis is a protective measure that prevents people from moving around during REM sleep. However, people with narcolepsy enter REM sleep so quickly that they may experience paralysis while falling asleep or waking up. 

Is There Treatment for Narcolepsy?

There is no treatment that can cure narcolepsy, and the precise cause of the illness is unknown. There is, however, evidence that people with narcolepsy have unusually low levels of hypocretin, a brain chemical that regulates sleeping and wakefulness periods as well as REM sleep. Some people experience a reduction of symptoms when they are prescribed tricyclic antidepressants and SSRI antidepressants. Stimulant medications can help people stay awake, but will only work for as long as the person takes the drug. Lifestyle changes such as eating light or vegetarian meals, taking brief naps to control sleepiness, and avoiding operating machinery or driving while tired can help mitigate some symptoms.

References:

  1. A.D.A.M. Medical Board. (2000, November 18). Causes, incidence, and risk factors. Narcolepsy. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001805/
  2. American Psychological Association. (2009). APA Concise Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010, May 15). Narcolepsy. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcolepsy/DS00345

Last Updated: 01-17-2018

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  • Fondzeyuf

    Fondzeyuf

    August 13th, 2017 at 11:15 PM

    I just realized I have narcolepsy. How can I help myself

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