Imagine not being able to control your sleepiness. Imagine if you fell asleep at any time of day—while doing any activity—and you had no way to control it. You could fall asleep while driving, walking the dog, eating or playing catch. You could fall asleep while in dangerous places or situations (such as the driving we mentioned above) and your sleeping could endanger the lives of others. What in the world could cause such an uncontrollable pattern of reckless sleeping? Narcolepsy.
Cause and Symptoms
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes the onset of sleep quite suddenly. There is a part of your brain that regulates sleeping and wakefulness. When you suffer from narcolepsy, that part of the brain is left without proper regulation and just shuts down at will. It does this because it lacks a chemical called hypocretin. Narcolepsy does not occur very frequently. Out of every 2,000 people, only one person will suffer from it and they usually know they have it no later than by age 25. Researchers are still looking for the trigger that causes narcolepsy. They have proposed that it is a genetic problem which may be set off by the onset of a virus.
Believe it or not, the symptoms of narcolepsy extend further than just sleeping. They include:
- Hallucinations: these hallucinations can happen while the sufferer is in the process of falling asleep or upon waking. They do not generally occur while wide awake.
- Muscle control problems: during time of extreme stress of intense emotions, the narcoleptic can experience a very sudden loss in their muscle control.
- Microsleep: some narcoleptics are actually productive during their sleep. They perform routine tasks, communicate with others verbally and then wake up. Upon waking they have no idea what they’ve just done.
- Insomnia: some narcoleptics have trouble falling asleep in the evening when they are supposed to sleep. They may have some anxiety and even hot flashes.
- Quick REM sleep: Most people take an hour and a half or more to fall into REM sleep. Narcoleptics can fall into REM immediately after falling asleep.
Unfortunately, there is no cure yet for narcolepsy. But there are some kinds of narcolepsy treatment that may prove effective to some sufferers. While no narcolepsy treatment is one size fits all, there are enough options that one of them or some of them used in combination may help you. Talk to your primary care physician about the narcolepsy treatment you wish to try and find out if he or she agrees with that method or has an alternative idea.
Prescription Medications for Narcolepsy Treatment
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants universally suppress a patient’s ability to fall into REM sleep. As a narcolepsy treatment, antidepressants may not stop a narcoleptic from unexpected sleep episodes but can stop some of the loss of muscle control and hallucinations.
- Stimulants: Some stimulants like Ritalin can help narcoleptics stay awake. If using a stimulant as a narcolepsy treatment, be sure to contact your primary care physician if you suffer from any heart palpitations or other uncomfortable side effects.
Non-Medication Narcolepsy Treatment
- Nap: If you schedule naps throughout your day—and by schedule we mean take short naps at the same time every day—you may be able to avoid the unexpected sleep. Be sure to nap for at least 20 minutes.
- Exercise: If you have trouble sleeping at night, try getting more exercise during the day. This can increase your fatigue in time for bed.
- Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of narcoleptics. Even non-narcoleptics who drink alcohol in excess have some of the symptoms of narcolepsy when they drink—such as microsleep and hallucinations. Adding alcohol to the mix when you are already narcoleptic is a recipe for disaster.
on Dec 29th, 2010 and filed under Sleep Disorders
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