Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder of sleep regulation, characterized by overwhelming and excessive periods of sleepiness during the daytime which last from 10 to 20 minutes. Such periods of sleepiness are mostly sudden and brief. They take place without any warning sign and can repeat many times during the day. In other words, a narcoleptic person is under the danger of irresistible sudden attacks of sleepiness during the daytime (even after having some good sleep at night), and can fall asleep in any time and any place. Narcolepsy affects normal life, because narcoleptic people can not control own sleep-awake condition. Cataplexy (the loss of muscle tone) and hallucinations accompanying sudden attacks of narcoleptic sleep, can make narcolepsy harder.
The symptoms of narcolepsy include physical overwhelming and excessive sleeping attacks during the daytime. On the earliest stages of the disorder they happen as a result of boredom, when an individual is motionless and in peace. But after a while, a person with narcoleptic symptoms can start experiencing sleep paralysis (inability to move or to talk when the person is about to fall asleep or right after waking up), automatic behavior (doing daily activities without full awareness), hypnagogic hallucinations (very realistic and sometimes scary visions and dreams) and cataplexy (sudden losses of muscle control of the body, which vary from slight weakness to total loss of control, and are frequently followed by loud reaction of laughter, scream or anger).
The causes of narcolepsy have not been specified clearly yet. The specialists from National Institutes of Health have been analyzing the behavior and sleep patterns of narcoleptic people, trying to find out possible reasons of this disorder, as well as the ways to diagnose and effectively treat it. Medical scientists suppose that this disorder can be connected with biochemical defects of central nervous system, resulting in disturbance of a person’s REM sleep. The specialists have discovered that narcoleptic patients have some irregularities in those parts of the brain, which regulate their REM sleep. Blood pressure is also a key-factor, especially for the cases of cataplexy, because losses of muscle tone are strictly linked to blood pressure changes. Besides, as narcolepsy often happens in all members of the same family, heredity can also be a key point among the causes of narcolepsy.
Diagnosis of this disorder includes physical examination and studying of the person’s sleeping process. There are some ways of treatment, including taking antidepressants and medications from the group of central nervous system stimulants, psychological therapy or doing physical exercises. Stimulants and anti-depressants must be prescribed in order to improve alertness and control muscle paralysis. Besides, specialists can recommend taking planned short daily sleeps, which can help overcoming sudden sleep attacks. Programs of combined treatments can be really effective, though complete recovery from this disorder is hardly possible. You must remember that treatment is strictly individual and depends on the intensity of the symptoms, so it can take weeks or years to achieve some positive results.
About 125,000 people in our country have a type of narcolepsy. It can occur in both women and men of any age, though its symptoms can be mostly found in teenagers or young adults of early twenties. This disorder is usually a life-long problem and for those, who suffer from this disorder it is important to learn more about narcolepsy. There are special support groups to help patients and their families coping with the effects and consequences of this disorder. A number of educational programs are also available in specialized clinics and medical organizations.
If you suspect that you might be suffering from insomnia, you should analyze your sleep routine and answer the following questions:
1. Do you have difficulties with falling asleep or maintaining good sleep all night long?
2. Do you usually wake up very early in the morning?
3. Do you feel tired, unrefreshed and restless when you wake up?
4. Do you experience all of these problems even in those situations, when you have an opportunity to go to bed in the most convenient time and sleep as much as you want?
5. If you suspect insomnia in your child, does he refuse going to bed and sleeping alone?
6. Do you have at least one of the following problems:
— lack of energy;
— lack of motivation to do something;
— problems with attention, memory or abilities to concentrate;
— lack of success at work or in school;
— frequent changes of the mood;
— daytime sleepiness;
— frequent mistakes when doing usual daily work or when driving;
— nervous tension, headache and abdominal pains;
— disappointment or worries about own sleep?
If you answered “YES” to all of these questions, there is a big probability that you are suffering from insomnia. In such case, it is very important to find out, whether you have some other reasons causing you problems with sleep. Sleep disturbances and disorders can be the result of various reasons including:
— Chronic medical conditions and neurological complications;
— Long-term use of some medications;
— Substance abuse;
— A psychological disorder;
— Another sleep disorder or disturbance, etc.
If you suffer from insomnia, you are not alone with this problem. Nowadays, more than 30% of people around the world regularly have the symptoms of temporary insomnia, and about 10% of modern Americans suffer from chronic insomnia. Insomnia occurs more frequently in women and aged people. It is usually caused by a variety of reasons, including some serious general diseases. Also, insomnia can be a side effect of taking certain medications. People, who suffer from insomnia, usually have such problems as daytime irritability and fatigue, difficulties with concentration and focusing on something, sleepiness and many others.
There are four main types of insomnia that are connected with:
- difficulties when falling asleep;
- difficulties with maintaining sleep all night long;
- waking up too early;
- unsatisfying quality of sleep.
Insomnia is caused by some quite common reasons, which can be classified as the following:
(1) the causes, connected with physical and psychological condition of a person (including stresses, worries, anxiety and fears, concerns about the problems in professional or personal life, inability to relax, suffering from pains or diseases, menopause, continuous boredom and feeling of being rejected, depression, and so on);
(2) using stimulants, medications containing caffeine and other medications that can interfere with sleep (antidepressants, antihistamines, some weight-loss medications, etc.);
(3) environmental factors (changes in sleep environment, changes in daily habits or schedules, changes connected with traveling and time zone change, etc.)
(4) the factors, connected with aging (changes in general health, daily routine, sleep patterns, and so on);
(5) behavioral factors and failures to maintain a proper sleep hygiene (eating too much before going to sleep, leading very active night life, drinking and smoking before going to sleep, and so on).
If ignored and not treated properly, insomnia can lead to some complications, such as psychological disorders, depression, problems with blood pressure, increased severity of other illnesses and diseases. Besides, as insomnia usually causes lack of attention and concentration, it can be a reason of serious mistakes and even accidents which put human life to danger. Do not delay talking to a specialist if you are experiencing syndromes of insomnia and have sleep deprivation affecting the quality of your life. In the majority of the situations, insomnia can be treated with special supplements and medications (sleeping pills or antidepressants) as well as behavioral therapy, supported by the efforts to eliminate possible causes of insomnia and developing good sleep habits.
When your child can not sleep well at night, it usually becomes a problem for the whole family. Some children sleep more than 10-11 hours a day, but some do not like sleeping and stay awake till midnight. Therefore, an individual approach is needed for every child when creating his sleep strategy and developing good sleep habits. It is necessary to take into account such details as his age, type, health, situation in the family and many other factors. However, it is possible to name several universal rules for making the child’s sleep more comfortable and effective.
• Remember that sleep can hardly be commanded, that is why all you can do is create the right environment and stimulate your child’s bedtime mood.
• Make your child go to sleep and wake up in the morning at the same time every day.
• In the evening before going to bed, give him some time (from 10 to 30 minutes) to get ready for going to sleep or develop a sort of bedtime ritual for your child (reading a bedtime story or listening to some calm bedtime music).
• Create a proper sleep environment for your child.
• Control the hours your child spends in bed. Check out sleep patterns of your child and do not allow him to stay in bed for more hours than he actually needs for normal activities.
• Watch what your child is doing before going to sleep. Do not allow him to jump or run and try to divert his attention on doing something calm.
• Keeping the lights dim before going to bed also stimulates you child’s bedtime mood. At that, do not forget to use bright lights in the morning and during the day.
• Never use the television or other communication media while sleep training your child.
• Talk to your child before he falls asleep. You must be the last for your child to see before he falls asleep.
• Help your child to learn falling asleep himself. For this, help him to develop positive associations when falling asleep.
• Sending to bed must never be a punishment or threat for your child. Your child has to develop only positive feelings about going to bed and learn to enjoy the bedtime.
• Do not allow your child to watch movies or programs, as well as to play PC games that are not appropriate for his age.
• Do not allow your baby or toddler to fall asleep nestled in your arms with the bottle of meal.
• If your baby cries at night, come near and comfort him but do not pick him up. This way he will not develop a habit of crying in order to gain your full attention.
• If it is possible, do not let your child sleep in your bed. This habit is very hard to break and in the future it can bring to unwanted consequences.
• Do not give your child any drink or food (including, first of all, chocolate and carbonated drinks) with caffeine before he goes to sleep. Also, try to avoid giving him medicines that stimulate physical activity.
If your child slept very well all night, he will be active and full of joy all day long. But keep in mind that not every child who does not sleep long enough at night can feel discomfort or lack of sleep during the day. You must also remember that in many situations the child’s problems with sleep are not the fault of his parents. Sometimes these problems are serious, but sometimes they are not. If you child has continuous difficulties with sleep, talk to your pediatrician or sleep specialist.
It is impossible to underestimate the importance of good sleep for proper development and wellbeing of your child. Sometimes, sleeping is the only way for very active children to rest and recover after their daily physical activities. Besides, the hormones that stimulate growth of human organism are mostly produced during sleep. Finally, children’s imagination is very vivid, and seeing dreams helps children to process their thoughts and review daily events.
It is very important for parents to know how well their child sleeps at night or during the day. Fortunately, it is possible to understand this by looking at the child’s mood, activities and success in personal development. A tired child who has problems with sleep will sooner or later demonstrate changes in his behavior and learning abilities. Moreover, problems with sleep of your child always cause stresses for you and your family.
Many parents have no idea, how long their child must sleep. Specialists recommend the following amount of sleep for children based on their age:
• Infants (1-12 months) – not less than 16-14 hours a day
• Toddlers (12-24 months) – not less than 14-13 hours a day
• Toddlers (24-36 months) – not less than 13-12 hours a day
• Young children (3-5 years) – not less than 12-11 hours a day
• Children (6-10 years) – not less than 11-10 hours a day
• Teenagers (11-18 years) – not less than 9-8 hours a day
According to the information received from modern parents, their children usually sleep less that it is recommended in the table above. However, children mostly have no difficulties with sleeping all night long. That is why if your child can not fall asleep fast, cries, wakes up at night or has other difficulty connected with sleep, there is a probability that he has a serious sleep problem. There are some signs of possible sleep disorders:
• It takes a lot of time and efforts of yours to help your child fall asleep.
• You child repeatedly wakes up at night.
• Your child snores and breathes heavily all night.
• You child displays changes in behavior, mood, success in school, etc.
• You have lost your sleep because of you child’s problems with sleep.