What Is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder in which an individual often feels sleepy at irregular and unanticipated times. In most of the cases, the individual suffering from narcolepsy is not diagnosed and treated. Excessive sleepiness and sleep attacks during the daytime are some of the most common symptoms of this neurological disorder. Narcolepsy is often found in young adulthood; however, it can occur at any age. People who suffer from narcolepsy at an early age may have some family history of the disease, as genetic factors also play a very crucial role.
Famous people with narcolepsy include Harold M. Lckes, deputy White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton, Nastassja Kinski (actress), Arthur Lowe (actor), Jimmy Kimmel (late night talk show host) and many other well-known personalities.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Sleepiness during the daytime: People with narcolepsy often feel sleepy, even when they are dynamically involved in an activity. They often feel drowsiness every few hours and may fall asleep for several minutes, without being aware of the actual sleep duration.
Cataplexy: This is a medical condition which is caused by muscular weaknesses. Some of its symptoms include arm weakness, a sagging jaw, a drooping head, excessive daytime sleep, and hallucinations, among others. Factors that may trigger cataplexy are sudden bursts of emotion, laughter, stress, or a heavy meal.
Causes of Narcolepsy
This sleep disorder could be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, autoimmunity, and the absence of the brain peptide, hypocretin (orexins), which is responsible for sleep regulation. Research studies have revealed that individuals with narcolepsy lack two brain chemicals: hypocretin – 1 and hypocretin – 2, which activate arousal and regulate sleep.
Although it is a sleep disorder, doctors often find narcolepsy difficult to diagnose. In most cases, patients do not consult their doctor, as their symptoms seem normal. When the problem becomes evident, however, they consult their health care professional. In order to determine specific sleep disorders, doctors often review a patient’s medical and family history; however, narcolepsy diagnoses take a long time. Doctors often use methods such as the Epworth sleepiness scale, a nocturnal polysomnogram, multiple sleep latency tests, and spinal fluid analyses.
Treatment for Narcolepsy
Patients with narcolepsy need to take three or more scheduled naps throughout the day. In addition, they should avoid heavy meals, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco. People who have mild narcolepsy do not need any medication, as they can avoid the problem with sleep scheduling; however, those who have serious problems will need medication. Drugs available for the treatment of narcolepsy target two major symptoms: sleepiness and cataplexy. Drugs can only be taken under medical supervision. Moreover, narcolepsy can be kept under control by reducing stress, taking short naps during the day, doing regular physical exercise, and avoiding heavy meals.
1. Narcolepsy: New York Times Health Guide
2. Famous people with Narcolepsy: Wikipedia