Narcolepsy or Daytime Sleepiness: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

narcolepsy

The term narcolepsy refers to that disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness to those who have the disorder. Apart from daytime drowsiness, there are a ton of other symptoms and effects of the disorder like hallucination, cataplexy and sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy disease is quite rare and yet complex. It is a chronic disorder that can last for years or even lifelong. The causes of this disorder include genetic reasons. Some specific genes, if present in the body, can cause the production of chemicals that might lead to narcolepsy. The disorder requires professional medical treatment. Improving lifestyle and practicing better sleep habits like sleep hygiene, avoiding caffeine, regulating sleep schedules can be extremely helpful.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

narcolepsy

Symptoms of narcolepsy include:

Daytime Sleepiness

Narcolepsy causes the feeling of extreme sleepiness during the daytime. It is harder for the ones who have this disorder to control the ability to stay awake and hence be productive during the day. They might fall asleep at places like school, or work, which negatively affects their lives. Generally, narcolepsy meaning often includes the term EDS which stands for Extreme Daytime Sleepiness.

Sleep Paralysis

People who suffer from narcolepsy often tend to experience sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is the condition where a person experiences the feeling of dread and terror while waking up abruptly, most probably in the middle of the night. They feel the feeling of being trapped in their own body as they find themselves unable to move any parts of their body, even though they are fully awake. Although the paralysis lasts for only a couple of minutes, it is quite terrifying and could affect a person’s daytime productivity.

Hallucination

A person with Narcolepsy might experience two types of hallucinations. A hypnagogic hallucination occurs as the person is falling asleep and hypnopompic hallucination occurs as the person is awake. Since the person is in between the state of awake and asleep the whole day, they often dream during the day. Because of the person’s half-asleep state, the dreams seem incredibly real, and that might be the cause of hallucination.

Cataplexy

Cataplexy is the condition of suddenly collapsing or losing control of muscle strength, even though the person is fully conscious. This can be triggered or initiated by very strong emotions like rage, fear, laughter or sorrow. People with narcolepsy often tend to experience cataplexy too, although the frequency of the experience might vary. some experience it on a daily basis, some might feel it once or twice in a very long time.

Causes of Narcolepsy

In its healthy state, our brain produces a chemical named hypocretin or orexin. This chemical helps make our sleep regular and helps us get the rest of our brain and body needs.

But due to various causes like genetics or a poor immune system, in some people, the brain does not produce enough of this chemical. This leads to various sleep abnormalities like narcolepsy or sleeps paralysis or even insomnia.

There are other factors that also contribute to causing narcolepsy. Some of those are

  • Different checkpoints of lives like puberty and menopause bring a lot of changes in our hormones. These changes might trigger or initiate Narcolepsy.
  • having a poor immune system due to diseases like swine flu
  • Some vaccines or medications like the Pandemrix vaccine given for swine flu has been known to cause narcolepsy in children
  • Going through major events that stresses you out in an impeccable manner might also cause narcolepsy
  • Abrupt or frequent change in the habits of sleep due to reasons like jet leg could also lead to narcolepsy.

Treatment and Care

There are specialists as well as self-help options available when it comes to narcolepsy treatment. Narcolepsy medication includes various stimulates. Before being prescribed any medication, the patient might have to take a narcolepsy test that includes the study of the following characteristics

  • sleep behavior
  • the sleep pattern
  • sleep history
  • sleep latency
  • polysomnography

After the tests according to the severity of the condition various medications like antidepressants or sodium oxybate which is highly effective for cataplexy is provided to the patient. It is always advisable to seek medical supervision before consuming any kind of chemical medication or drug. If the patient has specific medical conditions like high or low blood pressure or diabetes, some medications might do more harm then good. So we recommend seeking expert supervision.

Lifestyle Modification

Lifestyle modification can majorly help in disorders like this one. Regulating sleep patterns can work like a miracle. Make a sleep schedule, and stick to it as much as possible, avoid staying up late as much as you can. Taking small naps at day can provide some rest to our body that it craves. It can help reduce daytime drowsiness. Try to limit the intake of alcohol and nicotine as much as possible. Be physically active, exercise regularly.

Medication

pills

The medication of narcolepsy includes various stimulants that stimulate the central nervous system that helps the patients stay awake during the day. Other medications include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors(SSRIs) and Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors(SNRIs). These suppress REM sleep to help with the symptoms of cataplexy. Doctors also provide Tricyclic antidepressants and sodium Oxibate that are an effective solution to cataplexy. The side effects of these medications include nervousness, insomnia, dry mouth, lightheadedness, weight gain, digestive problems, bed-wetting and increased sleepwalking. Sodium oxybate should not be taken with sleep medications or alcohol as it might trigger side effects like coma, difficulty in breathing and even death.

Additional Support

support from peers

Talking about narcolepsy with the people you work with might help to make the life of the patients a lot bit easier. Help from peers, teachers, coworkers, and parents can make navigating through the simple stuff of life easier. Taking a little help and talking about stuff can help in case of a lot of mental health problems. Furthermore, taking small naps during the daytime can be helpful in reducing daytime sleepiness. That can be possible for students or people who work only if they have the support of their teachers and higher authorities.

Help should be provided to people with narcolepsy during work that requires staying focused like driving. People with narcolepsy can also benefit from support groups and counseling. If you come across any such people, try to help them as you are well aware of the consequences with the help of this article. You can also help them or other people by spreading awareness and sharing this post will probably be a great and easiest start.

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