Narcolepsy overview– When you are constantly bothered by disturbance in your sleep pattern, like if you are experiencing extremely sleepiness, hallucinations and wakefulness there are chances that there is something abnormal in your brain function that control sleep-wake cycles, this could indicate that you are possibly affected by a fairly rare neurological disorder known as narcolepsy. It is believed that sleep disorder occurs only during sleep, but when symptoms manifest themselves during the day, you need to become alert and go for diagnosis a polysomnogram, also known as a sleep test.
The Centre for Narcolepsy at Stanford Medical School claims that it is one of the most underdiagnosed disorder. It’s believed that this disorder’s diagnosis takes many years may be around 14 years, which eats up half of your life span that is definitely emotionally traumatic on family, relationships, and causes personal trauma in education and greatly affects your professional commitments. There is an estimation that around 40 million Americans suffer from this rare sleep disorder. It is estimated that the billions of dollars is spent annually in productivity, health care, and safety.
Narcolepsy affects both men and women are thought equally, but some studies insists the condition may be more common in men. Researchers are of the view that this is an autoimmune disease, by tracking the immune cells responsible for causing damage to the specialized cells in the brain, this disorder can be prevented from becoming serious
What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a fatal neurological disorder a condition that is marked by uncontrollable urge to fall asleep in any comfortable surroundings. People with this disorder often complain of tiredness all the time and show desire to sleep in any given situation when most people would remain awake. Narcoleptics may experience sleep paralysis that is characterized by a temporary loss of muscle control that occurs in transition from sleep to awakening. Although during this transition the narcoleptics are vaguely aware of happenings in their surroundings, they are unable to move or respond. But when the person is shaken or touched the sleep paralysis usually disappears. Sleep paralysis is common among most of the narcoleptics.
Patients of narcolepsy also suffer from cataplexy a condition of total loss of muscle control that is associated with a strong emotion such as laughing, anger, or surprise. The cataplexy attacks varies from person to person and its effect is only for few minutes.
Patients suffering from narcolepsy can be affected by hypnagogic hallucinations at the onset of sleep, wherein the person experiences dream-like images and sounds are heard. The images or visions seen by narcoleptics in their dream are usually very dreadful, full of fear, anxiety, and horror. It is estimated that this disorder can affect between 50 to 70% of narcoleptic patients.
To be clear narcolepsy is not a dreadful disorder in itself, but it can lead to dangerous situations, primarily because the narcoleptic falls asleep at inappropriate times like while watching an engaging movie or driving.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a disorder associated with central nervous system, it is also known as excessive daytime sleepiness, hypnolepsy, sleeping disease, paroxysmal sleep, and Gelineau syndrome. The exact cause of narcolepsy has not been identified, it still needs a strong research to come to any conclusion
- However narcolepsy is said to be a genetic disorder. It is believed that if narcolepsy runs in the family, there is a major risk of it passing on to the near ones.
- Another reason being highlighted for the cause of narcolepsy is low levels of hypocretin, this is the chemical in the brain that controls the sleep-awake cycle. Hypocretin has the key role in production of feel good hormones serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. When these hormones are in low levels it can lead to host of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, mood swings etc. which is normal in people with narcolepsy. This can be explained, infections of the H1N1 influenza virus during your young age may add to development of narcolepsy, immune system responsible for fighting off the infections ,mistakenly targets specialized cells in the brain that produce hypocretin, this leads to drastic fall of hypocretin-producing cells and symptoms of narcolepsy sets in to be more clear it is the immune system that is to be blamed for low levels of hypocretin, the major reason for cause of narcolepsy.
- Researchers have discovered abnormalities in various parts of the brain that lead to loss of hypocretin, makes it difficult for the person to stay awake, a person with narcolepsy enters rapid eye movement (REM) sleep directly without going through the normal process of sleep cycle like from awake, then into deep sleep and finally REM sleep, It is these disturbed sleep pattern that contributes to the development of narcolepsy.
- Sometimes brain injuries that includes tumours, trauma and stroke are also responsible for causing narcolepsy.
- Lack of vitamin D can also cause narcolepsy.
- Autoimmune disorders like lupus, celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis can also be considered to put you at risk for narcolepsy.
- If you are constantly exposed to toxins like pesticides, harmful smoke, heavy metals and other chemicals in the environment you are at risk for narcolepsy.
Snippet –According to recent research people with narcolepsy have nearly 65% more brain cells containing the chemical histamine. This indicates excess of histamine cells may cause the loss of hypocretin cells, responsible for sleep-wake cycle in humans.
Signs of narcolepsy
Narcolepsy first strikes people aged 10 to 25, plaguing them for life. Narcoleptics may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Sleep paralysis
- Restless leg syndrome
- problem focussing
- poor memory
- low energy
- feeling extremely tired
- decreased sex drive
- poor cognitive functioning
- weight gain
- slurred speech
- inability to move or speak while falling asleep or upon waking
Diagnosis of Narcolepsy
A sleep specialist will be able to diagnose the symptoms of narcolepsy. Diagnosis includes a review of the patient’s medical history followed by a physical examination.
The doctor will order certain tests to determine the cause and severity of narcolepsy the test includes:
- Polysomnogram test – this test is conducted by placing the small electrodes at different spots on the body to monitor brain waves, heart rate, eye movements, and muscle activity.
- Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) – this test is done to know how quickly the patient goes into sleep mode whether it progresses to REM sleep.
Treatment of Narcolepsy
There is no cure for narcolepsy as such, The treatment for narcolepsy includes certain medication that include stimulants like Provigil, Nuvigil, or Ritalin, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and SNRs like Prozac, Sarafem, Selfemra and Effexor to reduce cataplexy symptoms and hallucinations and antidepressants are also given that include Vivactil, Tofranil, and Anafranil to cope with depression which is common in narcoleptics, for cataplexy symptoms Xyrem is considered good and it’s known to promote sleep quality.
Snippet– evidence says that narcolepsy bears the traits of autoimmune disorder and should be treated accordingly. It refers to a particular autoimmune process that triggers loss of orexin neurons, which balances sleep and wakefulness cycles in the brain.
Possible side effects of medication taken for narcolepsy include:
Some of the side effects like heart palpitations, addiction, headaches, nervousness, digestive problems, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, dry mouth, and light-headedness. The doctor may also suggest certain behaviour changes that includes maintaining proper sleep routine and wake routine. The suggestions by the doctor may include nap therapy (take brief naps in intervals throughout the day) this helps narcoleptics to stay alert, prevent narcolepsy from becoming severe. The doctor will caution you to be extremely careful while driving, while working with machinery etc.
Diet can lessen the narcolepsy symptoms
Narcolepsy can be dealt with various medical treatments but remember if you ignore your diet it can lessen the effect of medicines meant to treat narolepsy, so talk with your doctor and try to take information about the kind of diet that can help lessen the symptoms of narcolepsy. There are certain foods that can help you cope with narcolepsy but should in no way be substituted for professional medical advice. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol that can disrupt your sleep and exacerbate narcolepsy symptoms. People with narcolepsy can switch to a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy and lean sources of protein. A keen watch on your diet can help make life with narcolepsy a little easier.
Snippet -Ketogenic diets, a type of very low-carb, high-fat diet is a new discovery to reduce narcolepsy symptoms, followed as a form of treatment at more than a hundred hospitals across the United States, Canada, and other countries.
Exercise your way to cope with narcolepsy
Exercise is linked to improving the quality of your sleep at night You can opt for light, moderate, or vigorous exercise that will help you stay alert, aerobic exercise on a regular basis is also a great option, Schedule a workout routine and try to stick to it.Even a brisk walk of 15 -30 minutes can be beneficial, will help you stay alert through the day.
Snippet– Regular exercise and a good diet promote general health and alertness for people with narcolepsy.
It is agreed fact that narcolepsy has no cure, narcolepsy is a disorder that’ll stay for life and interrupt your everyday routine it is emotionally draining for the person affected with this disorder as well the people close to the affected.it may cause complications in relationships and family life. The only way you can cope with this disorder is to be courageous enough to deal with the challenges associated with this disorder. It very important to learn more about the disorder and seek treatment. You can share your frustrations and fears with others who understand the problems linked with narcolepsy, you can turn to support group for help, try to find ways to face it and channel your mind and body to deal with this disorder.
Snippet – Narcolepsy is manageable with positive approach, optimal treatment, behavioral strategies, carefully chosen medications to improve alertness and cataplexy.