How Do I Know If I Have Narcolepsy?
What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder in which the length of rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep that a person experiences throughout a night is significantly impaired. For most people, REM sleep occurs about 90 minutes into a sleep cycle and will recur several times throughout a night.
REM sleep is one of the most important parts of the sleep cycle, since many of the restorative aspects of sleep only take place during this period. People who suffer from narcolepsy have great difficulty deriving all the benefits that they need from a night of sleep.
How Does Narcolepsy Develop?
Narcolepsy typically develops between the ages of 15 through 25. However, it can occur at any time of life, affecting both women & men. The root cause of narcolepsy is not known, however genetic factors are believed to play a role. If a member of your immediate family has the condition, you are more likely to develop it – but, no one is “guaranteed” to develop narcolepsy.
Experts believe that there are many factors involved in narcolepsy. This includes a potential for deficient production of hypocretin, a brain chemical that helps to regulate REM sleep. MRI and other scans of those experiencing narcolepsy symptoms show characteristic brain activity.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy has a wide range of symptoms and does not always appear the same even within the same person’s experience. It is a much more complex disorder than it might look in popular media, and has a constellation of symptoms – not all of which are always apparent.
These symptoms may include:
- Fragmented sleep
- Falling asleep suddenly or unintentionally - typically during the day
- Sleep paralysis – inability to move shortly after waking up
- Cataplexy – sudden, temporary loss of muscle tone while awake
- Visual hallucinations while falling asleep and while waking up
Narcolepsy Treatment Options
Narcolepsy can be treated successfully with a wide range of medications. The exact type to be used depends upon the severity and type of symptoms you have encountered. However, the majority of treatments are stimulants that eliminate excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) while making it more likely that the body will settle into a healthier sleep rhythm during the night.
How to Get Rid of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy cannot be cured. Yet, a customized course of treatment can significantly relieve or even eliminate symptoms. For the best possible results, medication should be combined with lifestyle changes aimed at improving overall sleep hygiene and depth of sleep.
For example, many narcolepsy patients have some success with the following adjustments:
- Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, particularly late at night
- Abstaining from alcohol and heavy meals shortly before sleeping
- Regulating sleep schedule to encourage a healthy circadian rhythm
- Scheduling daytime naps of 10-15 minutes during peak symptoms
- Establishing a consistent schedule including regular exercise and meals
An essential part of getting appropriate care for narcolepsy is an accurate diagnosis. This can be difficult, as narcolepsy may present symptoms that are very similar to other sleep disorders.
A sleep specialist should perform rigorous sleep analysis as part of diagnosis. Commonly, this includes a polysomnogram (PSG) test at night as well as a multiple sleep latency test during the day. Combined, these tests help verify the factors associated with narcolepsy.
Sleep & Neuroscience Associates can help you overcome sleep disorders and return to natural, safe, restorative sleep you need to live your best life. Only our experts have the insight needed to diagnose and treat the most complex, persistent sleep disorders. Contact us today to learn more.