On this page, our sleep specialists here at Sleep Dynamics have to put together an introductory guide on narcolepsy, a sleep-related condition that affects thousands each year. Read on to learn more.
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that disrupts the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles. The disorder is believed to be caused by a genetic predisposition and abnormal neurotransmitter (hypocretin, also known as orexin) functioning and sensitivity. Narcolepsy is relatively common and affects 1 in 2,000 people of both genders. Individuals with narcolepsy usually feel rested after waking, but later experience extreme and unpredictable sleepiness throughout much of the day. Many individuals with narcolepsy also experience uneven and interrupted sleep that can involve waking up frequently during the night.
While not life-threatening narcolepsy can greatly affect daily activities and make day-to-day life a lot more difficult. Those who suffer from the condition may unwillingly fall asleep during various activities, making it harder to get through typical errands, events, and work.
The most common symptoms of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations. People with the narcolepsy can experience some or all of these symptoms to different degrees and frequencies. Though all have excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), only 1/4 of individuals who suffer from the disorder will experience all of the other symptoms during the course of their illness.
Everyone who has narcolepsy will experience EDS, and it is often the most obvious symptom of the disorder. EDS is characterized by persistent and unavoidable sleepiness, regardless of how much sleep a person gets. This overwhelming sense of sleepiness feels like a “sleep attack” that hits suddenly and unexpectedly. Certain circumstances that would generally make anyone sleepy, such as, dark rooms, jet-lag, heavy meals, make a person with narcolepsy a lot more tired than average. In between these sleep attacks, those affected have regular levels of alertness before.
Cataplexy is a sudden and uncontrollable lack of muscle strength and paralysis that occurs while a person is awake and is often triggered by sudden, strong emotions such as laughter, fear, anger, stress, or excitement. Unlike EDS, cataplexy may only appear weeks or even years after an onset of EDS. Individuals may only have a couple attacks their entire lifetime while others may experience them daily. Attacks range from mild to severe and can involve a momentary sense of slight weakness or a total body collapse. While these attacks may seem scary, they only last a few minutes and not dangerous as long as the person suffering from cataplexy finds a safe place to have their episode.
Sleep paralysis is similar to cataplexy but occurs at the edges of sleep. The symptom is characterized by the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. Each episode usually lasts only a few seconds or minutes and resembles REM-induced inhibitions of voluntary muscle activity.
Some people with the disorder experience vivid, sometimes frightening, visual or auditory sensations when they are falling asleep or waking up. More typically the hallucinations are primarily visual, but any of the other senses can be involved.
If left undiagnosed or untreated, narcolepsy can interfere with your psychological, social, and cognitive function and development as well as inhibit your day-to-day life. At Sleep Dynamics, our specialized team of medical experts is here to help you take control of your condition and get the treatment you need. Through medicinal options, lifestyle adjustments and alternative therapy we can offer you the advice and support necessary for your narcolepsy. By combining these approaches for Sleepiness and REM Intrusion, the Sleep Dynamic team can help you gain optimal control of your symptoms. If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by your symptoms or the uncertainty of the diagnosis, our counselors and specialists will be here with you every step of the way. Check out our narcolepsy FAQ to answer any questions you may have about the condition.
Want to learn more about narcolepsy or other possible sleep disorders? Give our team a call at 732-455-3030 to speak with a sleep specialist today!
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