Sleep is an integral part of human beings. We need to have sufficient amount of sleep to keep us going and regain the used up energy, especially when we indulge in hectic lifestyle. However, there are some people suffering from insomnia, or inability to fall asleep and there are also those who have abnormal daytime sleepiness, or narcolepsy.
What is narcolepsy? It is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. When this happens, a part of the brain that is assigned to regulate sleeping patterns gets affected. Affected people can fall asleep in the midst of work and even while cooking and worse, when driving, which can be dangerous as they are prone to accidents.
What causes narcolepsy ? This neurological disorder happens to every 1 in 2000 people and the symptoms are usually manifested at the ages 10 to 25 years old. This disorder is linked with genetic disorder and is often thought to be a lifelong condition since there is still no cure for narcolepsy. Does this mean affected people cannot find their way out to this disorder? They can alleviate symptoms if they undergo medications and behavioral and lifestyle changes.
Aside from genetic disorder, narcolepsy is also associated with low levels of hypocretin, a chemical in the brain that triggers wakefulness. The causes of low levels of hypocretin are not yet fully discovered but this is often thought to be related with factors like heredity, infections, injuries in the brain (such as stroke and brain tumor), autoimmune disorders (happens when the immune system regards the body cells and tissues as foreign and attacks them), reduced amount of histamine (a substance that stirs people to be awake) and toxins present in the environment (such as pesticides and secondhand smoke).
What are the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy? Excessive daytime sleepiness and abnormal REM sleep are the typical symptoms of this neurological disorder. Diagnosing narcolepsy takes time because excessive sleepiness may also be a presentation of other medical conditions. Doctors often make thorough observations about the common manifestations of narcolepsy to prevent wrong diagnosis.
One unique symptom of narcolepsy is cataplexy. This is characterized by abrupt loss of muscle control and is found to be caused by intense emotions. For some, hallucinations are also manifested and this is often frightening as series of visual and auditory sensations are perceived. Other symptoms are sleep paralysis, nighttime wakefulness and microsleep.
There have been no treatments made specifically for narcolepsy. However, there are medications approved to reduce symptoms like taking antidepressants for cataplexy and modafinil to treat excessive daytime sleepiness. Behavioral changes must also be practiced such as enhancing sleep during nighttime and avoiding substances like caffeine and alcohol prior to sleep.