Narcolepsy, a neurological disorder affects the control of wakefulness and sleep. People with narcolepsy experience extreme daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime. These sleep attacks can occur at any time of the day and during any activity.
In a typical sleep cycle, the body enters the early stage of sleep that is followed by deeper sleep stage and roughly about 90 minutes the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. But people suffering from narcolepsy, REM occur almost immediately in the sleep cycle and periodically during the waking hours. It is during the REM sleep that we experience the muscle paralysis and dreams that explains the symptoms of narcolepsy.
Causes of Narcolepsy
- Hereditary Genes – Scientists have discovered that the genes responsible for controlling the chemicals in the brain that directly affect sleep cycles can cause narcolepsy.
- Brain Abnormalities – REM sleep can be disturbed by brain abnormalities causing symptoms to appear.
- Autoimmune Disorder – Researchers have found that autoimmune disorders mistakenly attack the body’s tissues and cells commonly causing symptoms of narcolepsy.
Though, the causes of narcolepsy are still not identified, but research shows that genes play a major role. The genes control the chemical production in the brain that signals awake and sleep cycles. In case of faulty genes, the cycle is abrupt and it causes problems. Some experts believe narcolepsy to be the result of a deficiency of hypocretin chemical produced by the brain.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Wondering, what are the symptoms of narcolepsy? Some of them are mentioned for your reference:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): Excessive daytime sleepiness interferes with the normal activities on a daily basis, irrespective of whether the person with narcolepsy had sufficient sleep at night. People suffering with EDS report lack of energy, mental cloudiness, lack of concentration, memory lapses, extreme exhaustion and depressed mood.
- Sleep paralysis: This symptom is one of the scariest to experience. Here the person witness temporary inability to speak or move while waking up or falling asleep. These episodes generally last for a few seconds to minutes. Right after the end of the episode, the person recovers with their full capacity to speak and move around.
- Cataplexy: Herein, the person experiences a sudden loss of muscle tone that results in weakness and loss of voluntary muscle control. This might result in body collapse to slurred speech to total depending on the muscles involved. In most cases it is triggered by intense emotions such as anger, laughter and surprise.
- Hypnagogic Hallucinations – This is when a person has vivid visions immediately after waking up or during the very beginning stages of sleep
Narcolepsy is a lifestyle threatening sleep disorder as it affects your daily activities and make you feel disabled by affecting the relationship at work or home. The laziness, antagonism and disinterest that mark the symptoms are often not understood by many which mar the personal and professional relationships. This is not all, the risk of accidents is quite high due to the abrupt and variable nature. In most cases, people have been reported to have fallen asleep while driving.
So, if you or your loved one is suffering from Narcolepsy, it is best to seek immediate medical assistance and visit to sleep clinic for the best help.
Those who experience the symptoms of narcolepsy are encouraged to see their doctor. Sufferers should discuss symptoms with their doctor and be open about any family history of narcolepsy to help pin point the cause.
There is not a cure known at this time. However, therapy, lifestyle changes and medication can work together to improve narcolepsy symptoms and quality of life.