Narcolepsy is a neural sleep disorder which affects the brain’s regulation of an individual’s sleep and wake cycle. It is not a mental illness caused by anxiety as many think. According to experts, Narcolepsy is a condition which is mainly caused by a decreased amount of a protein made in our brains called hypocretin, although it is not very clear as to what causes it.
There is no way you can prevent Narcolepsy either. Disturbed work schedules are one of the reasons that worsen the symptoms of Narcolepsy.
Symptoms include excess, uncontrollable and sudden sleep occurring at any time of the day, dreamy hallucinations, sleep paralysis and cataplexy (in rare cases) when a person suddenly feels having lost muscle tone. It is important to note that not every patient will experience all of these symptoms.
Narcolepsy usually happens to people between age 15 and 25 and can develop into a noticeable disease at any time. Many a time it goes undiagnosed and hence untreated.
Causes of Narcolepsy
There is no known cause of Narcolepsy but scientists claim to have found the genes which are strongly connected to this sleep disorder. Apart from the deficiency of ‘hypocretin’, it is also said that abnormalities in those parts of the brain involved in the regulation of REM sleep causes Narcolepsy.
Since there is an involvement of genes contributing to this disorder, it is assumed that Narcolepsy runs in families.
Diagnosis of Narcolepsy
The MSLT or the Multiple Sleep Latency Test and the PSG or the Polysomnogram Test is mostly used to diagnose Narcolepsy. Apart from this there is a detailed physical exam and the knowledge of one’s medical history is of utmost importance.
As the symptoms are quite similar to other sleep disorders as well as to the symptoms of psychiatric and other neurological diseases, it becomes very difficult for the specialist to identify it to be Narcolepsy.
Hence, quite a few specialized tests done at a sleep disorders health center or a sleep laboratory are usually required to be taken before any diagnosis can be made.
Treatment of Narcolepsy
There is no known cure for Narcolepsy but it surely is treatable. Antidepressant medicines and amphetamine stimulants help in reducing sleepiness and irregular REM sleep patterns.
A new drug called Xyrem has been approved with people suffering from Narcolepsy especially with cataplexy. This medication helps people in getting a good sleep during the night so that they sleep less during daytime. There is a lot of medical help available for narcolepsy patients but unfortunately no cure.
Narcolepsy patients could also gain a lot by bringing lifestyle changes like keeping away from caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and eating light food. They should also regulate their sleep schedules, their day naps and having an exercise as well as meal timing in place.
It would also be a good practice for them to keep people in their surroundings informed of their condition, such as school or work places.
You may also have driving restrictions that differ from one state to another, so it is better that you keep yourself informed of the same.
Since Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, it serves in your best interest to keep away from complications such as functioning impairment at your work place, accident or injury and side effects of the medications you might be taking.