Narcolepsy is a rare lifelong neurological disorder, marked by chronic sleepiness, that affects men and women equally; about one in 2000 people overall. This condition of chronic sleepiness begins to develop during the teenage years between thirteen and twenty years of age. It can also develop in some people as old as forty to fifty years of age. The good news is that narcolepsy is a manageable condition which means that even if you are diagnosed with it, you can still go on to live a full and rewarding life.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
There are various symptoms of Narcolepsy. The most prominent symptom is persistent sleepiness to the point where you cannot distinguish being asleep or awake much of the time. The condition can be marked by fragmented sleep during the night and brief episodes of muscle weakness that is known as cataplexy as well as a brief paralysis that the person who is suffering from this condition experiences when he or she falls asleep upon waking up.
Additional symptoms of narcolepsy entail neurological symptoms that are more severe, such as a rare condition that is known as secondary narcolepsy which is caused by an injury to the deep section of the brain known as the hypothalamus.
Types of Narcolepsy
The two types of narcolepsy are with cataplexy and without cataplexy. Those that are diagnosed with narcolepsy without cataplexy have symptoms that are less severe. This just means their condition consists of a general sleepiness that has no emotionally triggered muscle weakness.
There are also two types of sleep with one kind being REM (rapid eye movement) and the other being Non-REM. The former is characterized by quick eye movements, dreams, and paralysis of the sleeper’s limbs and trunk that can prevent them from injuring themselves if they should act out their dreams while they are sleeping. The latter, Non REM, doesn’t experience this paralysis and the dreams are not as common as those with REM sleep.
The Basics of Sleep
To understand sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, it helps to understand the nature of sleep in the first place. It is by understanding the purpose of sleep that empowers us to make healthier choices which will, in turn, lead us to strive for a better quality of sleep.
Up until fifty years ago, sleep was once thought of as the passive and inactive state that the body slips into when the brain and body turns itself off in order to recuperate from the day’s activities. On average, the sleep cycle lasts about eight hours in much of western culture. In the last few decades, scientists are discovering that the brain is perhaps more active while we are sleeping than we are awake. People who have narcolepsy may even be more active than most of the general population which would explain their sleep disruptions and excessive sleepiness.
In its simplest form, sleep is that magical world where we leave the conscious world and traverse through a world of deep sleep and dreams. Although we rarely remember any of this when we wake up and in many cases, the sleep cycle passes so quickly we aren’t even aware of the time lapsing while we are asleep. The basic definition of sleep is period of reduced activity that is mostly associated with posture that involves lying down and closing our eyes; in doing so we also experience a decreased response to any outside, external stimuli that we normally experience during the day when we are conscious.
Also, we want to mention that the basic sleep cycle is easier to traverse than other forms of reduced consciousness such as hibernation and being in a coma where we have less control over the awaking process; if we actually do awaken in these other stages of reduced consciousness since these could lead to a more lasting period of reduced consciousness known simply as death.
People with Narcolepsy
- Usually feel inattentive and drowsy for a good part of the day, if not all.
- Fall asleep more easily and enter REM (rapid eye movement) sleep within fifteen minutes.
- Are more likely to have dreams during naps and experience hallucinations upon awakening, along with sleep paralysis and possible cataplexy.
- Could possibly wake up spontaneously in the middle of the night.
People without Narcolepsy
- Those that don’t have narcolepsy don’t readily fall asleep and typically feel more awake and alert.
- These people rarely enter REM sleep or have dreams during their midday naps and are not as likely to have a hallucination as soon as they wake up.
- Sleep paralysis and cataplexy are not common in those without the disorder so they have a better chance of sleeping well at night.
To sum it all up, narcolepsy makes it more of a challenge to distinguish being asleep with being awake. To those that do not have this neurological condition, being awake and being asleep are actually two different states that do not mix together.