Narcolepsy is a very serious sleeping disorder. It is a neurological disease that manifests in the form of sleep attacks. These attacks occur suddenly and may happen anywhere. It is a morbid disorder that occurs in repeated crises of varying duration, characterized by an urgent and uncontrollable need to sleep. This urge cannot be fought, and it is accompanied by short episodes of loss of muscle control. These sleep attacks occur regularly, and immediately turns into dreaming without the non-REM phase.
Narcoleptics can sleep at any time, without wakefulness interruption control. It is estimated that a rate of 0.03% of the population is affected by narcolepsy symptoms. The main symptom of narcolepsy is excessive sleepiness in adolescence, but signs can occur from an early age (in school or preschool), affecting both sexes equally. Symptoms into adulthood are rare, but they can start because of strong psychological and social stress or disruption of sleep-waking rhythm. Those who suffer from narcolepsy cannot stay asleep for long periods of time and can’t enjoy the soothing effects of a full night’s sleep. It is not known what causes this disease, but it is presumed to be related with autoimmune and genetic causes. It seems that a certain mutant gene occurred more frequently among those with narcolepsy symptoms, located between genes and CHKB and CPT1B. CPT1B controls the enzyme that induces sleep and the CHKB gene is responsible with the waking mechanisms.
The main symptom is the episodes of falling asleep suddenly, which can occur at any time. These unexpected siestas usually last half an hour, after which the patient wakes up voluntarily. These episodes usually occur several times a day and are accompanied by other symptoms that vary from patient to patient, which makes this disease difficult to diagnose.
Read more about narcolepsy symptoms: Narcolepsy symptoms
Unfortunately, there are no specific remedies for narcolepsy symptoms. However, some of the symptoms can be controlled by repeated treatments. The best treatment for narcolepsy is combining medication with a set guide. The goal of the treatment is to succeed in keeping the patient awake as long as possible during the day in order to be able to have a regular sleep schedule at night, accompanied by appropriate medication.
Those affected by narcolepsy should avoid stressful situations, strong emotions, alcohol, and driving a car. They can also use incentives for the central nervous system, but precautions must be taken to avoid addiction: methylphenidate (psychostimulant), dextroamfetamina, methamphetamine, modafinil. Narcolepsy symptoms must be distinguished from normal variations of sleep. In the afternoon, it appears as an increased physiological sleepiness, and the sleep disturbances arise as a result of use or abstinence from such substances. Moreover, it is important to have a healthy diet and a normal lifestyle, which should be mixed with natural remedies like herbs and homeopathic treatments, and good social support.
Read more about narcolepsy treatment: Narcolepsy treatment
Narcolepsy diagnosis is based on symptoms described by patients. In the absence of certainty, the doctor may also ask for an electroencephalogram: it will look like the person with narcolepsy will fall directly into the phase of paradoxical sleep without passing through the first stage of sleep, which happens to most people.
Narcolepsy is not a very serious condition itself, but may have disastrous consequences if the patient sleeps in a place or a moment that requires attention. This disease requires vigilance on the patient’s activities because some may be prohibited, such as driving.
Even if they sleep enough in the night, narcoleptics tend to fall asleep in the middle of meetings or watching a movie at the cinema. This sleep disorder can be a real social handicap and it can affect all aspects of life, from work, parenting, and even sexual activities.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
Narcolepsy is often accompanied by Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). RLS is a neurological movement disorder characterized by sensory and motor abnormalities. Experts say that establishing a correct diagnosis may take up to two years from the moment the patient first sought medical advice. According to the National Institute of Health in the United States, approximately 12 million Americans suffer from RLS. However, there have recently been more studies done on the disease, making it more well-known in the professional circles. In fact, a large number of experts think that it is an under-diagnosed disease and often overlooked. That type of error happens because patients feel that their symptoms will not be taken into account or that they cannot be treated.
Read more about Restless legs syndrome: Restless legs syndrome
Normally, to tell someone that they are sleeping too much can be no more than a simple joke. Stressed by the lack of time and the urgent list of things to be done, people barely have time to rest. This can decrease the normal limit of sleep hours per day more and more. However, you should know that people who sleep often are not as happy and healthy as they may seem. Under the disguise of good hours of rest, it can often hide a much more dangerous enemy: hypersomnia. Normally, an adult has an average of 10 hours sleep per night. Those suffering from hypersomnia exceed this amount considerably, and the consequences are visible on their health. Hypersomnia is a disorder that is characterized by an excessive desire to sleep during the day, even after a full night of rest. It should not be confused with ordinary situations in which people don’t rest during the night and feel dizzy and sleepy in the morning. Wanting to recover sleepless hours is different than never feeling like you have any at all.
There are four types of the disease, each with slightly different symptoms:
- Recurrent hypersomnia – It appears as episodes in which the affected person, after full periods of normal sleep, 8-10 hours per night, feels much more need of sleep. It is triggered by a dysfunction of the hypothalamus and it is treatable.
- Idiopathic hypersomnia – It usually occurs suddenly and without any triggers. The person is always the sleepy, confused and can no longer perform the tasks daily. There are no hypothalamic dysfunctions.
- Post-traumatic hypersomnia – It occurs due to excessive stress triggered by a traumatic event that affected the person emotionally and that triggered abnormal mechanisms in the central nervous system. It is treated with antidepressants and nervous tranquilizers.
- Genetic Hypersomnia – The affected person inherits the genetic disease. It occurs more obvious at maturity, a child only presents sporadic episodes of excessive sleep.
Read more about hypersomnia symptoms: Hypersomnia symptoms
There are a few ways to diagnose the chronic sleepiness that is prevalent in the neurological disorder known as Narcolepsy. This article will cover the self-diagnose that is perhaps the most accurate since we know our own bodies better than anybody. Still self-diagnosis doesn’t replace a doctor’s report and we should still seek a medical opinion if we have symptoms or narcolepsy or any other illness. It should be noted that the more proactive we are in our own wellness, the easier the medical professional’s job.
A self-diagnosis of narcolepsy would begin by noticing a persistent of sleepiness that occurs throughout the day even despite getting a good nights sleep the previous night. This is usually the first clue and one can find self-assessment tools online to help support their conclusions. That’s the benefit of living in the information age; there is not much of an excuse to not know much of anything.
There are also three questions that you will need to ask yourself once you suspect that you may have narcolepsy:
1) How likely are you to fall asleep during periods of inactivity even after you had a vacation or a weekend or any other multiple days off to catch up on your sleep?
2) Do you often feel very tired despite during the day despite the fact that you begin the day feeling rested?
3) Is dozing off at highly inappropriate times the norm for you?
*Note: Any yes to one or more of these questions needs to be discussed with your primary care physician (PCP) or a sleep specialist.
While sleepiness can occur for a variety of reasons, persistent sleepiness is usually the first clue that someone may have narcolepsy. To help identify problematic sleepiness, ask yourself these questions:
- “Once you have caught up on your sleep during weekends or vacation, are you still likely to fall asleep when inactive?”
- “Do you feel rested in the morning but then tired throughout much of the day?”
- “Do you doze off at inappropriate times?”
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should discuss your sleepiness with your primary care physician or sleep specialist.
Dream-like hallucinations just prior to sleep, and sleep paralysis at times when you are awake, are suggestive of narcolepsy. However, these symptoms are not considered very specific for the disorder, as they can occur in people who simply need more sleep. In contrast, true cataplexy is very distinct and occurs almost exclusively in narcolepsy.
The main purpose of the narcolepsy medication is to keep the patient away from an irregular schedule, to reduce the cataplexy episodes to minimum and to form a normal nyctemeral rythm.
Narcolepsy medications include:
- sodium oxybate
The stimulants of the central nervous system represent the first intention of treatment for people who suffer from narcolepsy. Modafinil is a new non-addictive stimulant and produces no significant changes in patient mood. Some people need treatment with methylphenidate or even with amphetamines, but although these latter drugs are effective, their pharmacological action is accompanied by side effects, such as irritability and palpitations; the risk of addiction is also very high if it is used for a long time.
Hypersomnia is an excess of sleep, which differs from the normal one in duration, depth and quickness of appearance. Hypersomnia should be distinguished from the comatose state of sleep by its reversible character. The two forms of sleep correspond to two kinds of hypersomnia, some corresponding to the slow sleep phase and other to the quickly sleep one.
As a definition, hypersomnia is characterized by excessive sleepiness that occurs almost every day in a person who sleeps normal at night(8-12 hours duration). The person with the disorder just wants to sleep during the day, but there are situations when sleep is installed unwittingly.
Currently there are no narcolepsy cures that can treat completely this disease. Some drugs may reduce the risk of drowsiness and untimely nap: amphetamines and other stimulants may be prescribed, as well as antidepressants.
An impeccable hygiene of life, with regular siesta may help spending a lifetime as active and normal and may complete the classic narcolepsy cure. If you record the narcolepsy symptoms, the doctor visit is required because there are many posibilities of narcolepsy cures that can get you rid of troubles. If you lose control over yourself, you can take some steps to avoid future complications.
While narcolepsy is not a mental health condition, modern neuroscience shows that nearly every illness can be traced to the human mind. It is now clear that just about every illness, mental and physical, is related to emotional problems such as stress, anxiety, and trauma. While narcolepsy symptoms are often mistaken for depression, narcolepsy disorder often goes hand in hand with depression, especially in adolescents and young adults. Research studies on correlation between narcolepsy and depression are inconsistent regarding the rate of co-occurrence for depression and narcolepsy. Researchers claim that the rates of depression symptoms in narcolepsy patients are anywhere between 17% (Roth et al., 1975) and 50% (Daniels et al., 2001). The studies also differ in the conclusion on whether the depression is a cause or a consequence. When depression is suspected, mental health practitioners need to use social-emotional psychological assessments to identify whether observed symptoms have physical or mental health roots or both.
Word “Narcolepsy” gets its meaning from the Greek words “seized by numbness”. Two of the leading symptoms actually serve to reflect this phrase; they are the excessive sleepiness that is marked by “sleeping attacks” during the day that could be a physical version of a panic attack. Another leading symptom that validates the Greek phrase is the severe muscle weakness known as cataplexy which is actually brought about by very strong emotional stimuli. Continue reading →