What Is Narcolepsy?

Believe it or not, thousands of people suffer from a strange condition in which they are prone to suddenly fall asleep in the middle of a sentence. They will be talking one minute and the next minute they are passed out on the floor! Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that can attack sporadically and is caused by the brain’s inability to normally regulate the sleep and wake cycles. People who suffer from this will actually fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Narcolepsy is a sporadic disorder affecting a region of the central nervous system that regulates sleep and wakefulness. It interrupts daytime wakefulness such that excessive daytime sleepiness is often the first sign. It slowly develops over several months or years especially if not treated immediately.

It really is true that one minute you might be wide awake and the next minute fast asleep. Throughout the day, if you are suffering from narcolepsy, you will experience excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS as a primary symptom. When this sleeping urge becomes too strong, you will instantly fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from this rare disorder, you could remain asleep for up to an hour or longer. If the boss catches you like this at work, you would not be likely to hold onto your job too long! It is true, however, that if you have experienced falling asleep while working, cooking, or even driving, you may have narcolepsy and may need to seek out a physician. Although it is rare, this condition has been found to be the third highest primary diagnosed sleep disorder among many sleep clinics.

For most adults, it has been clinically proven that 8 hours of normal sleep is composed of 4-6 separate sleep cycles. A sleep cycle is defined as beginning with a non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and followed by the rapid eye movement (REM). This sequence of transition from NREM to REM is due to the interactions of the nerve cells in the brain. When these cycles are not functioning correctly, the person begins to experience excessive daytime sleepiness.

Aside from the excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), there are other major symptoms which characterize narcolepsy. One of these is called cataplexy which is marked by a sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone. The person may just go weak and fall over. These attacks are sometimes so sudden that they can even surprise and scare the patient. They can be brought about by strong emotions like anger, depression, laughter, fright, or surprise. One minute they are laughing and the next minute they are snoring! Vivid hallucinations right after falling asleep or even upon awakening are also common with this disorder. They are referred to as hypnagogic hallucinations. These delusional experiences can be very frightening and can be accompanied by episodes of sleep paralysis at the beginning or end of the sleep cycle.

Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder affecting a region of the central nervous system that regulates sleep and wakefulness. As the dreaming stage of sleep (REM sleep) interrupts daytime wakefulness, a series of symptoms commonly appear. The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have conducted research about narcolepsy but, still, there was found to be no cure for it.

It has been concluded that, while there are available medications to relieve some symptoms of narcolepsy, there is still no accurate cure for the condition as a whole. In 1999, however, after a series of clinical trial results, the FDA approved the drug Modafinil for the treatment of EDS symptoms. The two classes of antidepressant drugs, tricyclics which include Imipramine, Desipramine, Clomipramine, and Protriptyline, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors which include Fluoxetine and Sertraline have proven effective in controlling cataplexy in many patients. These drugs, however, should be supplemented with behavioral strategies. Living a healthier lifestyle by eliminating alcohol, nicotine and caffeine intake may still be the best way to maintain a balanced lifestyle and decrease the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Source by Gary M. Miller


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