What is narcolepsy?

Lack of SleepWe’ve all seen the sitcoms with a character with narcolepsy – the character just can’t seem to stay awake, and the condition is played for laughs. However, if you or a loved one has narcolepsy, you know it is anything but funny. Narcolepsy can affect your entire life – during the day and throughout the night – and it can affect your health as well. Here is some more information on this serious disorder.

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder in which sleep-wake cycles can’t be controlled. Patients might feel overwhelmingly sleepy in the middle of the day, so much so that they can fall asleep anywhere at any time. And at night, people with narcolepsy wake frequently and sleep poorly.

Cataplexy is also a symptom of narcolepsy. Cataplexy is sudden weakness of the muscles, which can affect just part of the body or the whole body. It comes about when the patient has a strong emotion, such as anger or surprise. Other symptoms include sleep paralysis and very vivid hallucinations.

What causes narcolepsy?

Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes narcolepsy, but genetics are believed to play a part. People with narcolepsy also tend to have low levels of hypocretin, a chemical that helps to regulate sleep and wakefulness, in the brain.

How is narcolepsy treated?

There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, the symptoms can be managed with medication and some lifestyle changes. To diagnose narcolepsy, your doctor will perform a comprehensive sleep evaluation and a physical examination, and you may be asked to take part in an overnight sleep study.

Narcolepsy can cause other problems besides sleepiness. Patients with narcolepsy can be seriously hurt (or hurt others) if they fall asleep at the wrong time, such as when driving. Falling asleep at work or school because of the disorder can cause others to see someone with narcolepsy as lazy.

Narcolepsy can affect every aspect of your life, and it is important to find a sleep disorder specialist if you think you may have this disorder. The staff at Sleep & Neuroscience Associates in Greenwich, CT can help. Call 203-245-0412 for a consultation today.

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