How much do you know about narcolepsy? Learn more about the signs and symptoms of this sleep disorder, as well as its diagnosis and treatment.
What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate the normal sleep-to-awake cycle. This life-long condition affects both males and females all over the world, affecting 0.5% of the population.
Signs and symptoms
Individuals suffering from narcolepsy experience various day and nighttime sleep problems. They also experience excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy and sometimes sleep paralysis.
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
The most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), coupled with sudden, involuntary bouts of sleep that can strike at any time. Sometimes, these ‘sleep attacks’ only last a few seconds; other times, they can last a few minutes or longer. EDS can also cause a constant state of fatigue, which can affect concentration and attention during waking hours.
Cataplexy is a symptom that is unique to narcolepsy. It is characterised by the loss of muscle control as triggered by strong emotions, including anger and surprise. The severity can range from a weakening of facial muscles to total body collapse. Other typical symptoms include slurred speech, double vision, the dropping of the jaw, the slumping of the head and the sudden giving way of the legs. Attacks can range from several times a day to once or twice a year, and often last for a few minutes.
Sleep paralysis is the inability to move or speak while conscious, either just before sleep or when awaking. Relatively short-lived, this symptom usually lasts a few minutes.
Diagnosis and treatment
Narcolepsy has a significant impact on the daily lives of sufferers, and it could be difficult to cope with on an emotional level. A cure has yet to be found, but the symptoms can be treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. In any case, consult your doctor if you have any questions about the condition.
If you think you might have narcolepsy, your doctor will ask you about your sleeping habits, and may request a clinical examination and a thorough understanding of your medical history. If your doctor thinks that you have narcolepsy, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist for further consultation.
If you are suffering from narcolepsy, there are some behavioural changes that you can make to your life to get a better night’s sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed and alert. Check out these tips from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
Narcolepsy and you
With the right management, individuals with narcolepsy can lead perfectly normal lives. If you think that either you or someone you know might have narcolepsy, please consult your doctor for more information.