Narcolepsy: causes, symptoms and treatment

Sleeping is a luxurious past time. No doubt, it is essential to sleep for an active and healthy lifestyle. But excess sleep is an alarming proposition. And that too, falling off to sleep at any odd hours of the day.

If you have the indicator of sleeping at odd hours, you are suffering a rare ailment called ‘Narcolepsy’. A chronic neurological disorder, it arises because of the brains inability to regulate sleep cycles. Which means, at various times of the day, the patient can dose off for a few minutes, which may be extended for long hours.

Narcolepsy affects nearly 25 in every 100000 Americans. It can begin to manifest in the patient’s teens to early twenties.

CAUSES

So far, there has been a great deal of debate to what is the cause of Narcolepsy.

According to researchers, it is believed the brains normal pattern during the first hour of sleep, is that the brain electrical activity slows down. After a certain point of time, it increases again. This is followed by rapid eye movements and deep relaxation of the muscles. After a while, again the brain activity slows down. This sleep cycle repeats a number of times during sleeping.

This sleep cycle is controlled by neurons within the brain. The hormone ‘Hypocretin’ is low in the brains. This is believed that neuron controls the brains activity during sleep.

SYMPTOMS

The primary symptoms of Narcolepsy are as under:

EXCESSIVE SLEEPINESS: Narcoleptic patients experience excessive sleepiness during the day. Even when they are involved in some kind of activity, there is a high chance of falling asleep rapidly and inappropriately.

CATAPLEXY: Cataplexy is an abrupt loss of muscle tone. It results into immobility and always occurs during wakefulness. Typically, the patient’s head will suddenly fall, the jaw becomes slack and the knees will buckle. Speech may become loud and hoarse. In severe cases, the person may fall and remain paralyzed for a few minutes.

ATONIA: It is a sense of paralysis that occurs between wakefulness and sleep. Here, the person is conscious but cannot speak, move see or breathe properly.

HYPNAGOGIC HALLUCINATIONS: These are dreams that intrude on wakefulness. This can lead to visual, auditory, or touchable sensations.

MICROSLEEP AND AUTOMATIC BEHAVIOR: In some cases the patient has so-called micro sleep episodes, in which the person behaves automatically without being conscious. Some of the examples are as follows:

  • People with narcolepsy can be driving or walking competently.
  • A narcolepsy patient can jump from one unrelated topic to another.
  • The patient may suddenly perform bizarre actions.
  • Patients may experience severe forgetfulness.

PERIODIC LIMB MOVEMENT DISORDER: Many patients with narcolepsy experience periodic limb movement disorder. Here, the leg muscles involuntarily contract every 20 to 40 seconds during sleep.

TREATMENT

In narcolepsy, the treatment is aimed at two of the following:

  • Increasing day time alertness
  • Reducing the symptoms of cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis.

A combination of medications and behavioral therapy has proven to be effective over the years.

MEDICATIONS: Some of the following drugs have proven to be effective for narcolepsy,

  • Stimulants like Ritalin and Provigil
  • Anti-cataplectic medicines
  • Tricyclic anti-depressants

BEHAVIORAL THERAPY: As with narcolepsy, it is necessary to take steps to ensure a sound good night’s sleep for seven to eight hours. Make sure to clock your sleep hours at perfect time.

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