What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by a frequent and sometimes uncontrollable desire for sleep – aka sleep attacks. While the cliché of someone with narcolepsy suddenly falling asleep mid-sentence is not common, it is true that these sleep attacks can be intense and often require people with narcolepsy to make lifestyle adjustment to work around them.
The end result is of untreated narcolepsy tends to be irregular patterns and rhythms of sleeping. For example, someone suffering from narcolepsy may end up sleeping several times during the day and then having trouble sleeping at night. Poor sleeping patterns are not only inconvenient, they can also lead to sleep deprivation which will affect every aspect of your life.
There are two types of Narcolepsy, Type 1 and Type 2. The difference between both types of narcolepsy is whether or not Cataplexy is present with the Narcolepsy.
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.
· Type 1 Narcolepsy includes the presence of Cataplexy
· Type 2 Narcolepsy does not include Cataplexy
Around 75% of Narcoleptics have Type 1.
How Common is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is not common, and is in fact relatively rare. Here are some facts about its prevalence:
· It affects only about 1 in every 2000 people
· Narcolepsy symptoms generally begins to appear in people between the ages of 10-30 years old
· From the time symptoms begin, the average time to diagnoses is about 7 years
· It is estimated that only 25% of people with narcolepsy have actually received a formal diagnoses.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is caused by the loss of a brain chemical called hypocretins:
· Hypocretins are neurotransmitters that are involved in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle
· Without their presence, the body is unable to adequately regulate sleep
· It is not understood exactly what causes the loss of hypocretins, but 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. While identifying this gene seems initially promising of early diagnoses, only about 1 in 500 people with this gene will develop narcolepsy, which makes it a rather unhelpful find.
What are Narcolepsy Symptoms?
Narcolepsy symptoms seem obvious on paper, but in real life they can feel and appear similar to other issues that cause chronic fatigue. The primary symptoms of narcolepsy are:
· Sleep attacks
· Excessive daytime sleepiness
· Sleep paralysis, which is a temporary inability to move or sleep after waking
· Hallucinations before sleep and after waking up, which are temporary, vivid, dream-like visions or delusions
· Disrupted nighttime sleep
What are Risks of Narcolepsy?
Because of the symptoms of Narcolepsy, there are certain safety dangers associated with this sleep disorder, such as driving accidents. What is means is that many occupations are likely not suitable for someone with narcolepsy, such as:
Basically, any profession where a sudden sleep attack would result in endangering others is off the table. People with narcolepsy may also have trouble getting a driver’s license.
Additionally, the sleep deprivation that can result from Narcolepsy include risks like:
· 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)
How is Narcolepsy Diagnosed and Treated?
A narcolepsy diagnoses require a sleep study.
This sleep disorder can be treated fairly well with medications and lifestyle adjustments, though there will likely always be “hoops to jump through” – i.e., accommodations for narcolepsy symptoms.
If this article strikes a little too close to home – such as the symptoms – then please contact us for further discussion.