Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by unrestrained drowsiness and cataplexy (which refers to a condition of loss of muscle control, usually generated due to strong emotions such as laughter, shock etc.). It is common in both men and women, and the initial onset of symptoms occurs quite early, typically in childhood or during adolescence.
A normal sleep cycle is one where the first few stages of sleep lead to deeper stages and eventually, after about ninety minutes, the person enters REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In this stage, we encounter dreams and muscle paralysis. However, for those who are narcoleptic, REM sleep begins as soon as they go to bed at night, and also affects them in their waking hours.
Researchers have deduced the cause of this sleep disorder to be the lack of a brain chemical known as hypocretin (or orexin), which functions in regulating sleep. If the brain cells do not synthesize hypocretin, the person is unable to stay awake in the day and undergoes interrupted sleep-wake cycles at night time as well.
In a majority of individuals who have this neurological disorder, the instance remains undiagnosed. Moreover, this condition does not have any cure, only therapeutic interventions to help manage the symptoms and stay productive throughout the day. It is therefore important to consult your doctor and convey all of the palpable signs you may be undergoing, in a prompt manner, to ensure timely medical care is delivered.
The distinctive symptoms of narcolepsy consist:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
- Delusional Visions (Hallucinations)
- Cataplexy (loss of muscle control due to sudden and extreme external factors)
- Paralysis (immobile muscles and joints) during sleep
Diagnosis And Treatment
The doctor initially performs a physical exam and procures an extensive medical history, when a patient first exhibits the symptoms of narcolepsy. To confirm the diagnosis, specialized sleep tests such as polysomnogram (PSG) and the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) are carried out. These assessments help to determine the frequency of the person to take naps, as well as record his or her entire sleep cycle, particularly the REM stages.
Once diagnosed, the individual has to implement several stringent lifestyle modifications such as staying away from caffeine, alcohol and nicotine and following a meticulous exercise and diet plan. Despite there being no remedy discovered thus far for this ailment, its symptoms can be effectively controlled. The physician prescribes a schedule of amphetamine-like stimulants to tackle daytime sleepiness, and antidepressant drugs to normalize the sleep cycle.