Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that reduces your ability to manage the sleep-wake cycle. It is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep hallucinations, cataplexy, and sleep paralysis. The sense of uncontrollable sleepiness caused by narcolepsy makes you feel more than just tired; the condition makes you feel extremely tired all the time, causing you to fall asleep frequently and at random times, unexpectedly and without warning. When you do get rest, sleep is not a deep, rejuvenating experience.
Types of Narcolepsy
There are different types of narcolepsy. These include:
- Narcolepsy Type 1: This type of narcolepsy involves emotion-triggered muscle weakness, excessive and chronic daytime sleepiness, and high levels of hypocretin, a neuropeptide that regulates wakefulness, among other biological functions. Narcolepsy Type 1 was previously defined as narcolepsy with cataplexy.
- Narcolepsy Type 2: This type of narcolepsy usually has less severe symptoms and involves normal levels of hypocretin. While Narcolepsy Type 2 is also characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, it is not typically associated with muscle weakness triggered by emotions. The condition was previously defined as narcolepsy without cataplexy.
- Severe narcolepsy: When extreme examples of the five core signs of narcolepsy are demonstrated, it is considered severe narcolepsy.
- Mild narcolepsy: This type of narcolepsy involves mild examples of only some of the five core signs of narcolepsy.
- Narcolepsy in adults: Studies estimate that more than 50% of narcolepsy cases go undiagnosed due to the difficulty in accurately identifying the condition without very specific testing.
- Narcolepsy in children: The signs of narcolepsy can manifest in children as young as five or six years old. Excessive daytime sleepiness associated with early-stage narcolepsy in children is typically exhibited by habitual napping or irritability.
The Five Core Signs of Narcolepsy
There are five core signs of narcolepsy. These include:
- An uncontrollable desire to sleep
- Unexpected relaxation or muscle weakening of the knees, mouth, and eyelids, especially in conjunction with strong emotions such as fear
- Prominent dreams or vivid sleep hallucinations as you awaken or fall asleep
- Poor quality of sleep marked by frequent awakenings throughout the night
- Sleep paralysis, demonstrated by an inability to move or speak as you fall asleep or awaken.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is caused by a genetic abnormality that inhibits the part of the brain that regulates sleep performance (the hypothalamus) from receiving communication from other cells. This leads to irregular sleeping patterns, which in extreme circumstances, can become severe narcolepsy.
While the effect of neurotransmitters failing to properly maintain the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness contributes to the condition, there is evidence that indicates that anxiety, stress, and other emotional and environmental factors can also play a role in the onset of narcolepsy.
Is there a Cure for Narcolepsy?
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for narcolepsy. However, some narcolepsy treatments are available. Your medical history and the severity of your condition will determine which approach is appropriate for you. Narcolepsy treatments include;
- Lifestyle changes: Establishing and maintaining good sleep hygiene is crucial to managing narcolepsy. You can do this by sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule, and creating a regular bedtime routine to help you wind down. A healthy lifestyle that involves good nutrition and regular exercise, no smoking, and reduced alcohol intake can also help with the condition.
- Medication: In some cases, antidepressants can reduce potential triggers such as stress or anxiety. When considering medication as a means to treat narcolepsy, always discuss your options with a doctor or sleep specialist first.
- Non-medication therapies: many times, non-medical treatments can effectively complement a more structured medication approach. These methods can include:
- Massage therapy
- Acupuncture and acupressure
- Herbal teas
What is Sleep Paralysis?
Sleep paralysis is a condition in which you feel completely conscious, but are unable to move or speak. It occurs during the transition between wakefulness and sleep (or when passing from sleep to wakefulness), and can last for a few seconds or even a few minutes. A sensation of pressure or choking may accompany the paralysis.
When sleep paralysis occurs while falling asleep, it is referred to as predormital or hypnagogic sleep paralysis. If the condition happens while waking up, it is called postdormital or hypnopompic sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis may accompany sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, but it is also linked to other factors, such as:
- Substance abuse
- Certain medications, such as those used to treat ADHD
- Sleeping on the back
- Bipolar disorder, stress, or other mental conditions
- Changing sleep schedules
- Sleep deprivation
Contact Us Today
If you suffer from narcolepsy, sleep paralysis, or other sleep disorder, a sleep specialist can assess your condition and recommend a customized treatment plan to help ease your symptoms and get quality rest.