In movies and television, narcolepsy is usually portrayed in a funny way; someone will fall asleep immediately when exposed to a trigger. In real life, narcolepsy is not so obvious- of the 200,000 estimated Americans that have the disorder, only 25% of them are diagnosed. You could be living with narcolepsy and not even know it!
Causes of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is best described as excessive sleepiness during the day. The cause is not entirely known, but scientists theorize that it is caused by abnormalities in the hypocretin neurons of your brain. The hypocretins created by these neurons are responsible for stimulating wakefulness, so having an insufficient amount of them can cause you to be sleepier during the day.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
- Excessive Sleepiness
Narcolepsy sufferers have trouble feeling well-rested during the day. They may frequently doze off for short periods without realizing it. This tiredness can lead to problems concentrating and staying alert.
- Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a very scary event that can occur when you are falling asleep or when you are waking up. When you experience sleep paralysis, you will be unable to move for a short period of time. While sleep paralysis can happen to people without narcolepsy, it is very common in people that do have the condition.
Hallucinations are common in people with narcolepsy, particularly when they are falling asleep (hypnagogic hallucinations) or when they are waking up (hypnopompic hallucinations). These hallucinations often occur in junction with sleep paralysis.
Cataplexy is defined as a loss of muscle tone upon a certain trigger. The trigger is usually an intense emotion, such as fear or laughter. Cataplexy does not have to happen every time the trigger is present; some people with narcolepsy have infrequent episodes, while others have episodes daily.
Treatments of Narcolepsy
There are many different medications that can provide relief for narcolepsy sufferers. Some of these drugs are specially designed to reduce sleepiness during the day, while others were originally designed for other purposes; antidepressants and ADHD medications have been shown to have some positive effects.
If you are interested in being medicated for narcolepsy symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. He or she can help you to figure out which medication would work best at treating your condition.
In addition to drug therapy, narcolepsy can also be treated by lifestyle changes, such as:
- Staying away from alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, and large meals
All of these things can make you sleepy or make it hard to sleep at the right time, so it is best to avoid them as much as possible.
- Exercising regularly
Exercise can wake you up during the day and make you more tired at night, so exercising regularly can help you to regulate your sleep schedule.
- Sleeping on a regular schedule
People who have irregular sleep schedules often have more trouble with narcolepsy symptoms. If you have narcolepsy, you should try to take jobs that allow you to have the same sleep schedule every day.
- Taking regular naps
Adding just two 15-minute naps into your day can help you to control your narcolepsy symptoms.
- Staying relaxed
Cataplexy and other narcolepsy symptoms can be triggered by periods of intense emotions. By practicing good relaxation techniques (such as yoga or meditation), you can avoid these intense periods and relieve your symptoms.
It is hard to learn to live with narcolepsy, but managing it correctly can greatly improve your quality of life. Do not be embarrassed to talk to your friends and family about your sleep disorders. When you have a good support system around you, it can be much easier to deal with narcolepsy.