What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by a frequent and sometimes uncontrollable desire for sleep. This can result into sudden lapses into sleep at any time, any place. The result is that normal patterns and rhythms of sleeping become abnormal. For example, someone suffering from narcolepsy may end up sleeping several times during the day and then having trouble sleeping at night.
Irregular sleeping patterns are not only inconvenient, they can have medical, emotional, and psychological consequences.
What Are the Types of Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder. There are two types of Narcolepsy:
- Type 1 – Narcolepsy with Cataplexy
- Type 2 – Narcolepsy without Cataplexy
Cataplexy is an episode in which strong emotion causes a sudden loss of muscle tone, which is what keeps our bodies upright. Cataplexy can result in a full body collapse, or something less severe, like slack jaw. Around 75% of Narcoleptics have Type 1.
What are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy?
Being able to identify Narcolepsy symptoms is an important ability for starting the road to diagnoses. The symptoms of Narcolepsy include:
- Sleep attacks
- Sleep attacks are a common symptom of Narcolepsy. A sleep attack is a sudden onset of extreme sleepiness. It feels the same as “hitting your wall” at night, except it will happen during the daytime for no reason. Sleep attacks can be so extreme that sufferers can’t deny the sleep, and so they fall asleep suddenly.
- Cataplexy, as discussed earlier, is an episode in which you receive sudden loss of muscle tone, causing slackness. This can be isolated, such as having slack jaw, or it can happen to your entire body, causing you to collapse. Cataplexy is caused in response to strong emotion.
- Sleep paralysis
- Sleep paralysis causes temporary inability to move or speak right after waking up or right before sleep. It can last for only a few moments or upward of a minute, and naturally is quite terrifying. Some people even report brief periods of being unable to breathe.
- About half of people with Narcolepsy will also experience hallucinations before falling asleep or right after waking up, which will take the form of dream-like visions or delusions. They may involve several sensations at the same time as opposed to just visual experiences. This happens, to put it simply, because REM sleep shows up when it isn’t supposed to.
- Sleep Deprivation
- Sleep deprivation is also common is people who suffer from Narcolepsy. This is caused by irregular sleep patterns.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is caused by the loss of a brain chemical called hypocretins. This chemical are neurotransmitters that are involved in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. Without their presence, the body is unable to adequately regulate sleep.
While it is not understood exactly what causes the loss of hypocretins, current research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors as causes. Researchers have also identified a gene that is linked to narcolepsy, which about one quarter of the U.S. population carries – if you did the math, that means only about 1 in 500 people with this gene will develop narcolepsy.
Here are some informative facts about Narcolepsy [project-sleep]:
- It is relatively rare, affecting only about 1 in every 2000 people
- From the time symptoms begin, the average time to diagnoses is about 7 years
- Narcolepsy symptoms generally begins to appear in people between the ages of 10-30 years old
- It is estimated that only 25% of people with Narcolepsy have actually received a formal diagnoses
- There is no cure – Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition
- Studies indicate that its effect upon quality of life is comparable to epilepsy
- Around 75% of people with Narcolepsy also have Cataplexy
Risks of Narcolepsy
Because of the symptoms of Narcolepsy, there are certain safety dangers associated with this sleep disorder, such as driving accidents. Additionally, the sleep deprivation that can result from Narcolepsy include:
- Lower life expectancy
- Sleep deprivation linked to heart disease and stroke [source]
- Decreased immune function (in one study, people who received less than 7 hours of sleep were three times more likely to develop a cold than those with 8 hours or more of sleep)
- Strong link of sleep deprivation to weight gain
- Lower glucose metabolism and Type 2 diabetes risk [source]
- Link to increased inflammation [source] (those of you with IBS or other bowel-disorders may have already noticed a relationship between your gut and your sleep)
- Treatment Options for Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy can be managed to varying degrees of success with medications and lifestyle adjustments. Narcolepsy diagnoses require a sleep study.
If many parts of this article sound all too familiar, you should contact your doctor or one of our sleep specialists immediately. Take this free online sleep test to get started.