Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that can begin at any time from early age to mid-life and continues throughout life. Predisposition to it seems to be hereditary. It is believed to affect approximately 1 out of 1000 people of both sexes and all races. It is not degenerative; people with narcolepsy can expect to live a normal life span. Symptoms vary from mild to totally disabling for different people, and sometimes, even at different periods in the life of one person.
Narcolepsy is characterized by daytime sleep attacks, persistent and uncontrollable sleepiness, and lack of energy. An other definitive symptom is cataplexy, sudden loss of voluntary muscle control, ranging from brief and partial to a complete collapse for a protracted period. This can be triggered by strong emotion or intense fatigue. People with narcolepsy often perform routine activities without remembering them (known as automatic behavior) and while falling or upon awakening, they sometimes have vivid hallucinations and sleep paralysis (inability to move while partially awake).
In ways not yet understood, narcolepsy is related to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the dreaming portions of sleep. For the normal person, a sleep period first progresses through four resting sleep stages, totaling about 90 minutes, and then REM sleep begins. As a protection against acting out dreams, the voluntary muscles become paralyzed. It is important to note that with narcolepsy, sleep generally begins with REM sleep. Since the brain may not be totally asleep when the dream begins, it is sometimes experienced far more vividly and is thought of as a hallucination. After waking, REM periods, or fragments of them, continue to occur inappropriately throughout the day. This explains sleep attacks being uncontrollable. Cataplexy is somehow related to the REM muscle paralysis. For the person with narcolepsy and those around him, the most difficult fact to accept is that sleep at tacks and sleepiness are uncontrollable. Unless and until this is accepted by all concerned, any personal relationships are in great jeopardy and great feelings of guilt will develop.
Correct diagnosis is essential to appropriate treatment. You will need to find the sleep disorders center nearest you for testing. Generally, one or both of two tests is performed. The polysomnogram measures the brain’s electrical patterns, heart and breathing rates, and eye and muscle movements during sleep and can pinpoint any or all sleep disorders. Excessive daytime sleep and cataplexy must be treated separately. Central nervous system stimulants are prescribed for sleepiness and tricyclic antidepressants for cataplexy. Establishing optimum levels of medication requires good communication between patient and doctor. Tolerance build-up and long-term side effects can be serious problems. A schedule of one or more daytime naps is found to be beneficial in some cases. A few individuals who choose not to take drugs, due either to effectiveness or side effects, have been able to lessen symptoms by diet, exercise, acupuncture, etc. These treatment methods have yet to be documented.
- Have you ever fallen asleep talking?
- Do you get sleepy driving or doing repetitive activity?
- Do you ever feel as if you haven’t slept for 48 hours?
- Do you find the urge to sleep is often irresistible?
- Do you often have sleepiness, even if you’ve had a full night’s sleep?
- Are you lethargic?
If you think you have a problem, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Ask him about narcolepsy. Or, your local certified sleep center can assess sleep disorders. We do not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, or program for people with Narcolepsy. We simply try to inform you, believing that you have the right to know what help is available. CONTACT INFO FOR RICHLAND NEUROLOGICAL CENTER IS BELOW.
The Neurological Center
712 Swift Blvd, Suite 1 Richland, Washington 99352