Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is rarely spoken of but can have severe consequences to daily routines and quality of life. People with narcolepsy have severe daytime drowsiness leading to sudden bouts of sleep. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this chronic sleep disorder, but symptom management is possible with the help of a physician. There are two types of narcolepsy. Type 1 is when there is a complete loss of muscle tone, also known as cataplexy. Type II is when there is no loss of muscle tone.
Symptoms include possible cataplexy, hallucinations, excessive fatigue, and temporary paralysis. Cataplexy is usually brought on by severe emotions, but it is not something that every person diagnosed with narcolepsy will experience. When it does occur, some people may experience a drooping head or the inability to stand due to sudden weakness in the ktnees or legs. Due to the nature of the disorder, excessive sleepiness is natural and will lead to sleep attacks. Sleep attacks can happen while at work or while you are talking with someone.
There is no warning before falling asleep, but some report sleep paralysis, which is a temporary loss of speech or movement while falling asleep or waking up. Some narcoleptics also report hallucinations upon sleeping and waking
Causes and Complications
While the exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, those with narcolepsy usually have low levels of hypocretin, which is a chemical that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Age and genetics also play a factor in narcolepsy. Due to the abnormal lifestyle associated with narcolepsy, there can be social complications and physical harm that can occur.
People with narcolepsy may be more prone to accidents, like car or cooking accidents, due to the risk of falling asleep while performing these activities. Likewise, many people do not know about narcolepsy, so those who have the disorder may be considered lazy due to the excessive sleepiness and sleep attacks. Disruptive sleep patterns can interfere with relationships both in the workplace and at home.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis occurs after speaking with a physician about your symptoms. Usually, the doctor will collect an in-depth sleep history, including sleep records. If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist who could recommend a sleep study or a sleep latency test. If diagnosed with narcolepsy, medications may be suggested to help manage symptoms. In addition to medications, lifestyle changes like taking naps, sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule, and exercising may help reduce symptoms.