Sleep Disorder: Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy: Know All About This Peculiar Sleep Disorder

Listed here are the signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment methods that are associated with a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy. Read on to know more about these.
SleepHearty Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
If you are having problems sleeping and it is interfering with your mental, physical and emotional functioning then you could be suffering from a sleep disorder. At most times, we don't even understand we have issues with our sleeping patterns until one day it gets too much to handle. In today's world, lifestyle changes make this problem even more difficult to point out. However, if you have noticed a lot of problems in your emotional and physical life, and think these are caused due to your sleeping patterns, then you might indeed have a sleep disorder.

What is Narcolepsy?

A chronic sleep disorder that is characterized by sudden attacks of sleep and an overwhelming daytime drowsiness is termed as narcolepsy. People who are suffering from it find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time. However, it is often mistaken for depression, simple lack of sleep, seizure disorder or other conditions that may cause abnormal sleep patterns.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Excessive sleepiness in the daytime
    A primary characteristic is an uncontrollable need to sleep during the day along with an overwhelming drowsiness. People who suffer from this disorder will fall asleep without warning, anywhere and at anytime.
    Apart from this, people who are suffering may also experience a decreased alertness throughout the day.
  • Abrupt loss of muscle tone
    This is a condition also known as cataplexy, which can cause a range of physical changes from slurred speech to complete weakness of most muscles. This lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. Cataplexy is an uncontrollable condition that is often triggered by intense emotions, usually ones that are positive such as excitement and laughter, though sometimes surprise, fear and anger are also part of it. A few people who suffer from narcolepsy experience one or two episodes in a year while there are others who have numerous episodes. It has been studied that about 70% of people who suffer from this disorder experience cataplexy.
  • Sleep Paralysis
    Often people suffering from this disorder experience a temporary inability to speak or move while falling asleep or upon waking. These episodes are frightening and usually last only several seconds to several minutes.
    Sleep paralysis imitates the type of temporary paralysis that normally takes place during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, i.e. the period of sleep in which dreams occur. This temporary immobility that is experienced during REM sleep may prevent the body from acting out. It is notable that not every person who suffers from sleep paralysis has narcolepsy, however many normal people do experience a few attacks of sleep paralysis, especially in young adulthood.
  • Hallucinations
    When a person has narcolepsy, they may also have hallucinations. This happens when a person falls quickly into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep as they do at sleep onset at night and periodically during the day. It is at this time you may be semi awake when you begin dreaming and experience your dreams as reality and they may be frightening and vivid.
  • Restless nighttime sleep
  • Occasional automatic behavior.
The signs and symptoms usually develop between the ages of 10 and 25, but the condition can begin before the age of 10 or in your 20s and 30s. Narcolepsy rarely occurs after the age of 40.

Diagnosis

To diagnose, the doctor may make a preliminary diagnosis that is based on your experience of both sudden loss of muscle tone and excessive daytime sleepiness. It is after the initial round that the doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for additional evaluation and studies.

Staying overnight at a sleep center where you undergo an in-depth analysis of your sleep by a team of specialists may be included in the formal diagnosis. Some of the methods used have been listed below.
  • Sleep Questionnaire
    A scale called the Epworth Sleepiness scale that uses a series of short questions, is used to diagnose narcolepsy. This is a numbered scale on which you will rank on certain situations.
  • Polysomnogram
    This is a test that involves a variety of measuring tactics that are conducted through electrodes placed on your scalp before you fall asleep. The electrical activity of the brain and the heart, along with the movement of the muscles and eyes are measured by this test.
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test
    This is a test that measures how long it will take to fall asleep during the day. This is done by asking you to fall asleep for a series of four or five naps, each four hours apart when you are doing this specialists will observe your sleep patterns.
Treatment

There is no cure for narcolepsy, but there are lifestyle modifications and medications that can help you deal with the symptoms.

Antidepressants and stimulants are some of the medications that are used to deal with the disorder. It is advised that you consult the doctor if you are suffering from other health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes.

What Changes Do I Make in My Lifestyle to Help Me Deal with Narcolepsy?

Since lifestyle modifications are important in managing the symptoms, here are a few steps that could prove beneficial.
  • Adhere to a sleeping schedule. You can do this by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day including weekends.
  • Taking naps at regular intervals will also be refreshing and help you stay awake for a few hours.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine as using these substances may worsen the signs and symptoms associated with narcolepsy.
  • Exercise regularly as this will help you feel more awake during the day and also help you sleep better at night.
Making a few lifestyle changes for the better will certainly help you more than anything else. A healthy body, and a healthy mind will help you overcome almost all problems. Exercise, eat right, and stay happy!