What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that makes patients feel sleepy or drowsy all the time. No matter how much sleep patients take at night, they still feel sleepy throughout the day. In many cases, patients have been known to fall asleep randomly at any instant no matter where they are or what they are doing. Some patients might lose control of their muscle movements while having a sleep or narcolepsy attack. Patients suffering from narcolepsy are prone to suffer from Anxiety and Depression if not treated.
What Are Common Types of Narcolepsy Disorder?
Narcolepsy has been divided into two types, the type of narcolepsy that a patient suffers is determined by symptoms of cataplexy.
Type I Narcolepsy
If a patient suffers from excessive daytime sleepiness and at the same time also suffers from cataplexy, than they are suffering from Type I Narcolepsy. Usually patients with Type I narcolepsy have low levels of a brain hormone called hypocretin.
Type II Narcolepsy
If a patient only suffers from excessive daytime sleepiness and with any issue or symptoms of cataplexy, than they are suffering from Type II narcolepsy. Most of the patients with Type II Narcolepsy have normal levels of hypocretin.
If someone is suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness due to another health condition, it is labeled as secondary narcolepsy. Usually, patients who suffer direct trauma to the head/brain are prone to suffer from secondary narcolepsy. Such traumas can damage the hypothalamus region of the brain, which is responsible for regulating sleep.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown till date. Over the years researchers have postulated many different theories but none has been proven to be the sole cause of narcolepsy. There is one thing that many doctors and researchers agree upon. Narcolepsy is doesn’t have one single cause, it is caused by multiple factors including events and things happening in a patient’s personal life, exposure to chemicals, genetics, medications, brain injury, improper diet, brain tumors, stroke, surrounding environment and daily routine.
What Are Signs & Symptoms of Narcolepsy?
The first and foremost symptom of narcolepsy is EDS (Excessive Daytime Sleepiness). EDS makes living an everyday normal life really hard for people. Patients with EDS tend to feel sleepy and even fall asleep during the day, even though if they slept through the night. Usually, patients zone out while doing a task and don’t remember what they were doing or where they were before falling asleep.
Hallucinations and daydreaming are common symptoms of narcolepsy. When narcolepsy patients have sleep attacks they dream of events that they remember and talk about after waking up, although these events didn’t happen in reality.
Cataplexy is the sign that a patient has Type I narcolepsy. It can be pretty serious and patients can get injured in case they lose full-body control. So it is advised that patients with Type I narcolepsy symptoms should avoid doing anything that requires attention or things in which they can get heart after losing attention, which includes driving and operating machinery.
Sleep paralysis is another common sign/symptom of narcolepsy. Patients tend to suddenly lose control of their bodies while falling asleep or waking up like they are going into a coma. Patients will be unable to move any of their limbs or talk to someone.
How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
Note: If you have doubts that you are suffering from narcolepsy, please don’t diagnose or start treatment on your own. Make an appointment with a doctor to get a complete diagnosis and correct treatment.
The doctor will start the diagnosis after a complete physical exam and analyzing a patient’s complete medical history. Doctors also ask patients if anyone in their family suffers from narcolepsy and how they got treated for narcolepsy. This helps them in devising a complete diagnostic process.
The first thing that patients are asked to do is start making their sleep records. These records are for a minimum period of two weeks. In this period the patient has to note down the time they go to bed, the time they wake up and symptoms experienced. Nowadays there are many fitness trackers available in the market that can correctly keep track of a patient’s sleep.
PSG or Polysonogram is a sleep test that is really common nowadays. It is conducted by multiple sleep labs all over the US. This test is conducted overnight while the patient sleeps at the lab. During this time sensors are attached to the body to take constant measurements of different things.
MSLT or Multiple Sleep Latency Test, this test is also conducted in the same way as PSG. The only difference is that MSLT is done during the day. This test checks how prone a person is to fall asleep during the day.
How Is Narcolepsy Treated?
There is no cure available for narcolepsy. The only option that doctors have is to manage the symptoms and severity of narcolepsy. Usually, doctors tend to recommend tablets that force the brain to stay alert and wade away drowsiness. Stimulants such as Adderall (Dextroamphetamine), Ritalin (Methylphenidate), Provigil (Modafinil) and Sodium Oxybate are prescribed to help patients stay alert and awake.
How To Manage Symptoms of Narcolepsy?
The best way to manage symptoms of narcolepsy is by making lifestyle changes. The first thing that patients need to do is regulate their sleep. In addition to the nightly sleep, they should take naps during the day, especially during the time when they usually feel the sleepiest. The nightly sleep should also be managed, going to bed early and waking up early really helps.
Avoid consumption of tea, coffee, alcohol, energy drinks, and sugary snacks. All these increase the severity of narcolepsy. Also, stop smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes as they are also known to cause an imbalance of sleep-regulating chemicals in the body.
Regular exercise, yoga and jogging have shown positive effects on the narcolepsy patients. Removal of fast food and fried foods from diet also helps.
One thing that almost everyone needs to do is decrease screen time. The rays from mobile, computer, laptop, TV’s and other devices have been known to alter the body’s clock. This clock is responsible for regulating sleep and can cause narcolepsy if it goes out of sync. Try to relax before bed, read a hard-copy of a book so the eyes and brain can relax.
Does Narcolepsy Affect Everyday Life?
Narcolepsy can make the easiest of the everyday tasks impossible to do. Patients with narcolepsy are unable to drive or operate any type of machine including household drills. Cooking can also become impossible as staying near a stove and falling asleep can result in serious injuries. Many people suffering from narcolepsy get stuck within the walls of their homes and usually, people have to keep an eye on them. The best option to avoid any injury or harm is to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible from a narcolepsy expert.