Narcolepsy is a condition wherein the brain can not maintain proper and balanced sleep cycles. It is most commonly characterized by a pervasive feeling of sleepiness throughout the day, rendering people with this condition unable to perform daily activities properly. Furthermore, people with narcolepsy will also have uneven sleeping patterns and will wake up periodically during sleep.
As narcolepsy has a lot to do with energy reserves during the day, people who have narcolepsy may fall asleep during the most unexpected of times, such as while engaged in conversation or while eating. It also isn’t rare for a person to fall asleep during driving, which can lead to fatal accidents. Narcolepsy might also make the person paralyzed right before falling asleep, and their muscles are often fatigued, so trying to combat the urge to sleep is often unsuccessful.
A major characteristic of narcolepsy has to do with the REM stage or the rapid eye movement stage of sleep. Normally, a person would enter REM after an hour of sleep, thus entering a deeper state of sleep and will also begin dreaming. The brain will keep a person’s muscles muted and limp during this stage so as to not physically react to dreams. However, people with narcolepsy will enter the REM stage after only 15 minutes of sleep, and the muscle weakness can lapse between being awake and being asleep, thus explaining some of the symptoms of narcolepsy.
As far as the cause is concerned, narcolepsy can be traced back to a lot of things. However, it is most commonly associated with a severe lack of hypocretin, a chemical that helps the body maintain a sleep-wake cycle and regulates REM.
Scientists highly encourage people who suspect themselves to have narcolepsy to volunteer for narcolepsy clinical trials so that it can be studied further. This is because narcolepsy, despite all the data, is not completely understood. For example, the exact cause of the lack of hypocretin in the body can be a bit of a mystery, so scientists have that it may be correlated with a list of possible factors. Some of these include:
- Autoimmune disorders, scientists believe, is a major player when it comes to narcolepsy as the body itself is mistaking the hypocretin-creating parts of the brain as something that should be eliminated.
- Family history may be linked to narcolepsy as well, as it has been found that at least 10% of people diagnosed with narcolepsy have reported that they have at least one close relative that exhibits the same symptoms.
- Past brain injury and trauma can be directly linked to narcolepsy, especially when it affects the areas of the brain that regulate sleep.
What Conditions Are Most Likely to Appear If You Have Narcolepsy?
- Daytime drowsiness is something that people with narcolepsy will struggle with. Falling asleep at absolutely any time can be possible, and the periods of sleep may vary from a few minutes to hours. Though this sleep can help you regain energy, you may still feel sleepy after only a short period of time after waking up.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Not being able to concentrate and having increased alertness to your surroundings.
- Sudden loss of muscle tone, referred to as cataplexy, is the most common physical symptom of narcolepsy. It has a volatile nature in that the soreness and weakening can last only up to a few minutes, and you will slowly regain control of your muscles as it persists. This physical phenomenon is often triggered by intense emotions such as laughter, excitement, or extreme stress. Patients may experience it daily or have periodic incidents from twice a year to monthly.
- Sleep paralysis is the inability to have motor functions upon waking up, and this phenomenon can last up to a few minutes. Due to the heavy link of narcolepsy to REM, this can cause the person to experience dream-like states during waking up and can be frightening at times as people who experience sleep paralysis are fully aware of what is happening but is unable to act on it.
- REM sleep is the deepest form of sleep and can happen during any time of the day for people with narcolepsy. It may also range from being very rapid or only a milder form at the onset of sleep. However, this will prove difficult for both patients and people they are around at the time to deal with as they are in a deep state of sleep.
A person must get the proper amount and quality of sleep to function like normal human beings every day. If left untreated, narcolepsy not only affects you physically but will have psychological and social consequences as well. So, do not have second thoughts about seeking help from a professional if you are having trouble with sleep.