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.