At Sleep Dynamics, we help New Jersey residents who suffer from sleep disorders Keep reading for answers to some of our most frequently asked questions regarding narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy, or hypersomnia, is a neurological sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, sleep attacks, hallucinations, and sometimes sudden loss of muscle control. This sleeping disorder affects around 1 in 2,000 people in the United States and is often overlooked, wrongly diagnosed, and untreated due to the fact that many people are simply unaware that they have it. Since this is an underdiagnosed disorder, it is thought that the number of people affected could be much higher than estimated.
Narcolepsy blurs the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness, causing conditions including extreme fatigue during the day, vivid dream-like hallucinations, and paralysis while falling asleep or waking up. People with narcolepsy will often experience fragmented nighttime sleep but will feel well-rested after waking. The onset of the disorder typically occurs between the ages of 10 and 30, though it can happen at any age. Though narcolepsy is a lifelong problem, it does not usually worsen as the person ages.
In a normal sleep cycle, a person without narcolepsy will experience the early stages of sleep followed by a deeper sleep for about 90 minutes before rapid eye movement (REM) sleep finally occurs.
People who suffer from narcolepsy will experience REM sleep 15 minutes into their sleep cycle and even intermittently during the hours they are awake. REM sleep is the stage of sleep during which dreams and muscle paralysis occur.
The definite cause of narcolepsy is widely unknown. However, progress has been made to identify genes associated with the sleeping disorder.
The most common symptoms of narcolepsy include:
Narcolepsy affects both men and women but seems to be a bit more common in men. This may be because women are more likely to receive a delay in diagnoses.
There are a plethora of factors that may increase a person’s risk of narcolepsy. Some of the more commonly understood triggers of narcolepsy include:
Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle control that causes a person to collapse, slump over, or slur words with little to no warning. It is common for people who have narcolepsy with cataplexy to suddenly lose control of the muscles in their face, arms, torso, and legs. A person is awake during cataplexy, and the episode can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Cataplexy is often triggered by strong emotions, such as anger, laughter, stress, or excitement.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is often characterized by persistent tiredness and an overall lack of energy, even after a restful night of sleep. Though it can be a symptom in many disorders, it is a prevalent symptom of narcolepsy.
There are many ways this neurological disorder can affect a person’s day-to-day life. Some of the most common side effects of narcolepsy include:
People with narcolepsy may have other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea — a condition in which breathing starts and stops throughout the night — restless legs syndrome and even insomnia. It is very important to be diagnosed by a professional. There is currently not a cure for narcolepsy. However, there are viable treatment options and lifestyle changes one suffering from this sleep disorder can implement in his or her day-to-day routine to significantly improve adverse symptoms.
Medications for narcolepsy include:
If you have other health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, ask your doctor how the medications you take for your other conditions may interact with those taken for narcolepsy. Certain over-the-counter drugs, such as allergy and cold medications, can cause drowsiness. If you have narcolepsy, your doctor will likely recommend that you avoid taking these medications.
Emerging treatments being investigated for narcolepsy include drugs acting on the histamine chemical system, hypocretin replacement, hypocretin gene therapy and immunotherapy, but further research is needed before any may be available in your doctor’s office.
There are several measures a person suffering from narcolepsy can take at home to minimize their symptoms. Home remedies include:
If you answered “yes,” you’ve come to the right place! Sleep Dynamics can help patients suffering from sleep disorders obtain a proper diagnosis and manage their symptoms. If you’re a New Jersey resident ready to address your sleeping issues head-on, contact us today. We’d be happy to discuss your options with you.