Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects an estimated one in 2,000 people in the U.S. It’s a disorder that can lead to overwhelming daytime drowsiness and makes it difficult for people to stay awake for long periods of time. This can be really disruptive to experience in everyday life. While there isn’t a cure, there are treatments that can help minimize the impact of symptoms. You can search online to learn more about narcolepsy-related symptoms.
Frequency and severity of symptoms can vary for people with narcolepsy. To find out how this disorder can be treated, start an online search.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
There are specific symptoms that can be strong indicators of narcolepsy. Everyone with the disorder is different, meaning the frequency and severity of symptoms will differ. People with narcolepsy may experience one or a combination of symptoms.
Here is a breakdown of the most common symptoms of narcolepsy.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS)
It’s difficult for people with narcolepsy to stay awake during the day. They will feel an overwhelming need to sleep which can happen anywhere at any time. Sleep sessions may last for only a few minutes up to a half hour, and it can happen multiple times per day. This is usually the first and most obvious sign of narcolepsy.
Sudden Loss of Muscle Tone
Narcolepsy can lead to cataplexy, which is a sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone. Cataplexy can be triggered by intense emotion such as excitement or fear. Physical changes may include slurred speech, drooping eyelids, or even total body collapse that can last for minutes.
A sleep paralysis episode is brief and can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes. It’s when you experience a temporary inability to move or speak, either while falling asleep or waking up.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
People with narcolepsy often transition quickly to REM sleep typically within 15 minutes. While REM mostly occurs when people are dreaming, those with narcolepsy can experience it any time.
Narcoleptic patients can experience hallucinations when falling asleep or waking up. This can blur the line between dreams and reality, since hallucinations can happen when you’re not fully asleep.
Researchers have found a gene that is linked to narcolepsy, but only one in 500 people with this gene actually develop narcolepsy. See your doctor to find out if you carry this gene or if you’re experiencing narcoleptic symptoms.
How Narcolepsy is Diagnosed
If you’re experiencing persistent symptoms, then it’s time to see a doctor. Narcolepsy can be diagnosed by observing how you sleep. After your medical and family history is explored and your sleeping habits are discussed, doctors will have the information they need to diagnose narcolepsy.
Another method of diagnosis is with polysomnography. It measures a variety of signals while you sleep to monitor the electrical activity of your heart, brain, muscles, breathing, and eyes. There is also a multiple sleep latency test. Specialists observe your sleep patterns and require you to to take naps throughout the day.
Sleep apnea, epilepsy, depression, and hypothyroidism can have similar symptoms. Even a past head injury may be the reason behind narcoleptic symptoms. Doctors will have to rule out other conditions before confidently diagnosing narcolepsy.
Treatments for Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder, so there is no cure. But certain medications and lifestyle changes can help people manage their symptoms.
Some medications that doctors may prescribe for narcolepsy include:
- Stimulants — a primary treatment to help people stay awake throughout the day.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors —these medications suppress REM sleep and can alleviate certain symptoms, such as sleep paralysis or hallucinations.
- Tricyclic antidepressants — can be effective when dealing with cataplexy (loss of muscle tone).
- Sodium oxybate — another medication used for cataplexy.
Doctors will have to consider a number of factors when prescribing medications. This not only includes symptoms, but other possible health problems that a person may have.
Living With Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is a disruptive condition that can have a huge impact on your everyday life. This sleep disorder does not have a cure, which means it’s something you’ll have to learn how to live with.
Along with medications and lifestyle adjustments, people living with narcolepsy should find support. This can be in the form of groups and counseling. If you’re comfortable, you can also tell your employer or school about the disorder. They may be able to find ways to accommodate your needs.
Finding ways to stay safe is just as important. Whether it be adjusting your medication schedule that makes sense for your daily routine or ensuring you have ways to stop and sleep if need be, learning about your disorder and habits is crucial. You can learn more about narcolepsy by searching online.