Narcolepsy

narc2Narcolepsy is a comparatively rare sleep disorder, where a person falls asleep suddenly and without warning.

With narcolepsy, the usual sleep cycles are disrupted; after falling asleep a narcoleptic enters REM sleep much earlier than normal and might even feel the REM effects such as dreaming and paralysis whilst conscious.

Narcolepsy usually begins in adolescence, when it may be dismissed as typically hormonally affected teenage behaviour.

 

Common Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Some people may find that narcolepsy affects their relationships, with a loss of libido (low sex drive) or impotence. You may find yourself avoiding emotional situations that trigger narcolepsy with cataplexy, and consequently feel depressed and isolated.

Causes of Narcolepsy

Scientists have recently discovered that the majority of cases of narcolepsy are chemical. They are caused by an autoimmune response to an antibody called trib 2, which attacks the areas of the brain that produce a sleep-regulating chemical called orexin (hypocretin).

Diagnosis

If you think you have narcolepsy keep a diary of your sleep and any other symptoms you are experiencing. We will need to look at your sleeping habits, your medical history and consider if the condition runs in your family.

narc3We will need to analyse your sleep patterns, initially using the Epworth sleepiness scale questionnaire, and we will possibly carry out a Polysomnography investigation of your night-time sleep cycle, here at the South West Sleep Clinic, Nuffield Taunton, possibly followed by the multiple sleep latency test to assess the length of time it takes for you to fall asleep during the day. Read more on our tests page.

Once we have ruled out the possibility that your symptoms are caused by a different sleep condition or medical disorder (such as sleep apnoea, hypersomnia or chronic sleep deprivation), a diagnosis of narcolepsy and cataplexy will be based on whether you have experienced excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) daily for at least three months, and whether you have a history of cataplexy; i.e. sudden brief episodes of muscle weakness on both sides of your body, triggered by emotions.

Treatment

Stimulants are sometimes prescribed to help keep you awake during the day and these can be very effective for narcolepsy. Antidepressants may be recommended to help with muscle weakness if you have narcolepsy with cataplexy, but they will not reduce the number of sleep attacks you have, nor act like a stimulant to keep you alert.

However, there is no specific cure for narcolepsy, but we can advise you on how to manage your symptoms, working out a sleep schedule that will help you get into a routine of taking regular naps through the day.

narc4We can also help you to manage your narcolepsy symptoms by advising you on making lifestyle changes, such as abiding by a strict bedtime routine, taking regular exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Avoiding stress and making a conscious effort to relax before going to bed can help, as can learning to think ahead before doing any potentially dangerous activities, such as operating machinery – take a nap, and don’t have a heavy meal beforehand. And be aware that some over-the-counter medications, such as cold and allergy medicines, can cause drowsiness as a side effect.

If your child has been diagnosed with narcolepsy, you should inform their school so your child’s behaviour is not interpreted as laziness or lack of sleep.

 

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