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Sleep Disorder (Narcolepsy)

Sleep Disorder (Narcolepsy)

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder, affecting the part of the brain that regulates when to be asleep and when to be awake.


Narcolepsy causes extreme sleepiness and may even make a person fall asleep suddenly and without warning during activities such as driving or cooking.


Narcolepsy affects about 1 in 2,000 people, and is thought to be a genetic disorder. Most people experience their first symptoms between the ages of 10 and 25. Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, but narcoleptics who make certain lifestyle changes and seek medical help can reduce symptoms, improve alertness and enjoy a full and active life.


What causes narcolepsy?

The specific causes of narcolepsy are not known but people with narcolepsy are known to be lacking Hypocretin, a brain chemical which regulates sleep and wakefulness.


Narcolepsy may be genetic, but it also appears to be influenced by environmental triggers. Treatment requires a combination of medication, behavioural treatments, and counselling.


What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

The "sleep attacks" experienced by people with narcolepsy occur even after getting enough sleep at night, and make it difficult for people to live normal lives. Falling asleep during activities like walking, driving or working can have dangerous results. Symptoms of narcolepsy include:

Intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime leading to an excessive amount of daytime sleepiness.


Cataplexy (loss of muscle control): People with narcolepsy often have a sudden loss of muscle control while awake, usually triggered by strong emotions, such as laughing.


Hallucinations: Some people with narcolepsy experience vivid, sometimes frightening, visual or auditory sensations while falling asleep or upon awakening.


Sleep paralysis: Sleep paralysis is the inability to move or talk at the beginning or end of sleep.


Microsleep: Microsleeps are very brief sleep episodes during which people with narcolepsy continue to function (talk, put things away, etc.), and then awaken with no memory of the activities.


Night time wakefulness: People with narcolepsy may have periods of wakefulness at night, with hot flashes, elevated heart rate, and sometimes intense alertness.


Rapid entry into REM sleep: Narcoleptics have unique sleep cycles. They enter the REM, or dream, phase of sleep right after falling asleep, whereas most people take about 90 minutes to enter the REM phase. Someone with narcolepsy will experience the characteristics of REM sleep (vivid dreams and muscle paralysis) at the beginning of sleep, even if that sleep is during the day.


Treating Narcolepsy
Although no cure yet exists for narcolepsy, a combination of treatments can control narcolepsy symptoms. The recommended treatment for narcolepsy includes a combination of counselling, medication, and behavioural changes.


Medication is particularly helpful for treating the symptoms of narcolepsy. Commonly prescribed drugs for narcolepsy are Stimulants, Antidepressants and Sodium Oxybate.


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Brain and neurology guide: conditions and treatments