Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep problem that results in excessive sleepiness and even more serious sleep attacks at awkward moments. Narcolepsy can easily be confided with insomnia since both nighttime sleep is disturbed resulting in daytime sleepiness. The sleep attacks can occur suddenly even when the person is hugging.
Narcolepsy and Cataplexy: The Sleep Cycle
The sleep pattern of a normal person stages a stage of light sleep called the Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). After about 90 minutes of NREM, normal sleep enters a stage of deeper sleep called Rapid Eye Movement. These two stages (NREM and REM) keep alternating throughout the night. It is in REM where atonia – muscle paralysis – and dreams are experienced.
In narcolepsy, sleep is basically one long stage of REM. In fact, narcoleptics enter into REM almost immediately after sleep. This condition usually begins between ages 15 and 25. However, in most cases, it is rarely diagnosed correctly.
Narcolepsy is thought to affect about 200,000 Americans. Of these 200,000, only 50,000 have been diagnosed. Though this condition has similar prevalence rates as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, it is not well known. Narcolepsy can be easily mistaken for the following conditions:
- Laziness especially in teenagers.
- Narcotic drug use.
- Drug’s side-effects.
Narcolepsy and Cataplexy: What is Cataplexy?
Cataplexy is one of the main symptoms of narcolepsy though it can be viewed as an independent condition. As an independent condition, it is seen in 5 out of 10000 persons. In 70% of the cases, it is associated with narcolepsy. By description, cataplexy is sudden in the ability to control muscles that are usually associated with strong emotions.
A cataleptic attack can be partial or complete and it is symptoms include:
- Weakness in the arms.
- Sagging jaw.
- The head droops.
- Slumping shoulders.
- Poor speech due to the inability to control the tongue.
- Knee buckling.
Since there is no muscle paralysis in narcolepsy, narcoleptics tend to act their dream when they enter REM – which occurs immediately after sleep. Cataplexy behaviors are usually seen when the person is falling asleep and when waking up. Below are the other common symptoms of narcolepsy:
- Daytime sleepiness which is seen as extreme boredom.
- Hallucinations seen when the person is dreaming.
- Inability to move muscles immediately before or after sleeping.
Another peculiar behavior seen in about 40% of persons with narcolepsy is automatic behavior. This means that a person with narcolepsy can fall asleep but still continue walking, talking, or even putting things away. These people wake up with no memory of ever doing automatic behavior.
Narcolepsy and Cataplexy: Treatment and Coping Tips
Narcolepsy is a disease that has no cure. However, most of the symptoms notably extreme daytime sleepiness and cataplexy can be managed effectively using drugs and lifestyle changes. Daytime sleepiness is treated using the stimulant. The abnormal REM is managed using antidepressants. A drug called Xyrem has recently been approved for treating narcolepsy with cataplexy. Here are some lifestyle changes that can be used to control the symptoms:
- Develop positive sleep habits to helps trigger sleep.
- Naps are helpful in reducing daytime sleepiness.
- You should go to be about three hours after eating to give your body time to digest the food.
- Needless to say caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes should be avoided.