Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder defined by Web MD as being, ” a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness”.People who suffer from this disorder deal with excessive daytime sleepiness along with intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep while in daytime.
Sudden narcolepsy sleep attacks may happen any time during activity given through the day.
Our typical sleep cycle consist of entering early stages of sleep following a deeper sleep stage and then ultimately (approximately 90 minutes) rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Narcolepsy sufferers, REM sleep proceeds almost instantaneously in the sleep cycle as well as periodically during the waking hours. When we are in REM sleep we are able to experience dreams and muscle paralysis, explaining some of the symptoms of narcolepsy.
Between the ages of 15 and 25, narcolepsy usually starts. It can become apparent at any age. In many cases, narcolepsy is undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated.
We don’t know the cause of narcolepsy; in any case, scientists are making progress toward identifying genes strongly associated with this disorder. “These genes control the production of chemicals in the brain that may signal sleep and awake cycles”.
Some experts theorize that narcolepsy may be due to the deficiency in the production of a chemical called, “Hypocretin”,by the brain involved in regulating REM sleep.
Apparently these abnormalities are contributing toy symptom development. Experts believe that it is likely narcolepsy involves multiple factors that interact, causing neurological dysfunction and REM sleep disturbances.
There are symptons of narcolepsy, they consit of, ” Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): In general, EDS interferes with normal activities on a daily basis, whether or not a person with narcolepsy has sufficient sleep at night. People with EDS report mental cloudiness, a lack of energy and concentration, memory lapses, a depressed mood, and/or extreme exhaustion”.
“Cataplexy: This symptom consists of a sudden loss of muscle tone that leads to feelings of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control. It can cause symptoms ranging from slurred speech to total body collapse depending on the muscles involved and is often triggered by intense emotion, for example surprise, laughter, or anger”.
“Hallucinations: Usually, these delusional experiences are vivid and frequently they are frightening. The content is primarily visual, but any of the other senses can be involved. These are called hypnagogic hallucinations when accompanying sleep onset and hypnopompic hallucinations when occurring during awakening”.
“Sleep paralysis: This symptom involves the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. These episodes are generally brief lasting a few seconds to several minutes. After episodes end, people rapidly recover their full capacity to move and speak”.
For the proper diagnosis, a clinical examination and exhaustive medical history are vital. ”
None of the major symptoms is exclusive to narcolepsy. Several specialized tests, which can be performed in a sleep disorders clinic, usually are required before a diagnosis can be established. Two tests that are considered essential in confirming a diagnosis of narcolepsy are the polysomnogram (PSG) and the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT)”.
“The PSG is an overnight test that takes continuous multiple measurements while a patient is asleep to document abnormalities in the sleep cycle. A PSG can help reveal whether REM sleep occurs at abnormal times in the sleep cycle and can eliminate the possibility that an individual’s symptoms result from another condition”.
“The MSLT is performed during the day to measure a person’s tendency to fall asleep and to determine whether isolated elements of REM sleep intrude at inappropriate times during the waking hours. As part of the test, an individual is asked to take four or five short naps usually scheduled two hours apart”.
Even thought there are no cures for narcolepsy, EDS and symptoms of abnormal REM sleep, such as cataples, can be controlled in most people with drug treatment. ” Sleepiness is treated with amphetamine-like stimulants while the symptoms of abnormal REM sleep are treated using antidepressant medications”.
Recently there has been new medication approved for those who suffer from narcolepsy with cataplexy. “This medication, called Xyrem, helps people with narcolepsy get a better night’s sleep, allowing them to be less sleepy during the day. Patients with narcolepsy can be substantially helped – but not cured – by medical treatment”.
To reduce the symptoms from narcolepsy, lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and heavy meals,also by regulating your sleep cycle, taking regular daytime naps (10-15 minutes), keep up with a normal exercise and meal schedule may also be of some help maintaining symptoms.
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