Narcolepsy

What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy affects wakefulness and sleep and it is a neurological disorder.  Uncontrollable sleepiness and randomly falling asleep are characteristic of the disorder.  These attacks can happen at any time of the day or night and during activity. Narcolepsy usually starts between the ages of 15-25 but it can start at any age.

Most people fall into the deeper stages of sleep (REM sleep) about 90 minutes after falling asleep.  People with narcolepsy fall into the REM stage almost immediately after falling asleep and during random periods throughout the day.  Muscle paralysis is one of the things you might experience during REM sleep and this is one of the symptoms of narcolepsy.

What are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy?

People who have narcolepsy often are extremely sleepy during the day and it can interfere with their normal activities.  They can feel like their memory is cloudy and they can experience a lapse in memory, extreme exhaustion, concentration problems, and depression.

They may also experience cataplexy, a feeling of complete muscle weakness or muscle control. This can result in slurred speech or collapsing of the body. It may be triggered by intense emotions.  Hallucinations may  also occur and these can be very scary.  Any of the senses can be experienced.  Finally, sleep paralysis is perhaps the symptom that most people are familiar with.  It involves falling asleep and the inability to prevent it or to wake up.  These spells are usually short lived (from a few seconds to a few minutes) and recovery is usually quick.

How is Narcolepsy Treated?

There is not a cure for narcolepsy but symptoms can be controlled with medications.  Amphetamine-like drugs act as stimulants to control sleepiness and antidepressants help regulate REM sleep. If cataplexy is one of your symptoms, there is a new drug called Xyrem that helps you get better sleep at night so that you are not as tired during the day.

Doctors suggest avoiding things like nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine to naturally avoid symptoms of narcolepsy.  Scheduled naps and a regular sleep schedule can also be helpful.