Narcolepsy is a serious chronic sleep disorder occurring when the brain is unable to control the body’s regular sleep cycle. A person suffering from Narcolepsy symptoms tends to feel drowsy throughout the day and experiences sudden episodes of uncontrolled sleep. It may happen anytime, regardless of what is happening before the “sleep attack”. Because the person can literally be doing anything and fall asleep suddenly the disorder can seriously affect a person’s daily life. People with Narcolepsy often have their licences taken away and are not allowed to drive motor vehicles.
Narcolepsy is independent of gender, age or sex. Often the first signs of the disorder are seen between the ages of 9 and 21. The severity of the disease may vary with age however Narcolepsy is a life long illness.
Narcolepsy and Its Symptoms:
See figure 01-01a for a list of the common major systems of Narcolepsy.
Figure 01-01a – Major Symptoms Narcolepsy
|Signs And Symptoms Most Common In Narcoleptics|
|Excessive Daytime Sleepiness – one of the most visible symptoms of Narcolepsy, which affects all people suffering from the disorder.||
Of all the symptoms and signs of Narcolepsy, EDS or Excessive Daytime Sleepiness is the main symptom. It causes the affected person to feel tired throughout the day. This feeling of sleepiness persists often, regardless of a quality night time sleep. These symptoms of narcoleptic people come with a lack of energy and mental cloudiness. It also affects and impairs memory, causing depression in many.
People suffering from this symptom suddenly feel strong urges to sleep regardless of the time. It happens without warning; although these “sleep attacks” usually take place when they are inactive, such as when attending classes or meetings, watching television, or reading a book. However, it is still very possible for these sleep attacks to take place while one is talking, walking, eating, playing, or worse; while driving.
A typical sleep attack lasts for fifteen minutes to one hour with few exceptions. However, these attacks tend to recur within an hour or several hours after the previous attack. After sleeping, the person suffering from symptoms of narcolepsy wakes up refreshed, but then becomes tired again after one or two hours of consciousness. This cycle is repeated throughout the day.
As a first treatment for this Narcolepsy symptom, Xyrem (Gamma-Hyrdroxybutryric acid) and Provigil (Modafinil) may be administered.
|Cataplexy – sixty to a hundred percent of people suffering from Narcolepsy symptoms also experience this.||
Cataplexy is unique to Narcolepsy and its symptoms. It’s characterized by a sudden decline or loss of muscle tone and losing control over voluntary muscles. In mild cases of this Narcolepsy symptom, the person experiences slight feeling of muscle limpness or weakness in limited body areas. For example, the muscles in the neck weaken, which in turn causes sagging and drooping of facial muscles as well as drooping of the head. The person’s speech is also affected by the symptoms of Narcolepsy, making him/her slur. Narcolepsy may also cause loss of arm strength and buckling of the knees. In cases of severe Cataplexy attacks, the body collapses completely.
Cataplexy episodes are not like epilepsy where patients become unconscious as the attack is happening. In cataplexy, the patient stays conscious throughout the attack. This attack usually lasts from a few seconds to thirty minutes. Strong and sudden flares in emotion such as laughter; which is the most common catalyst of cataplexy, as well as anger, surprise, fear and excitement, trigger the episodes of a cataplexy attack.
|DNS or Disturbed Nocturnal Sleep – like most other Narcolepsy symptoms, DNS does not affect all people suffering from Narcolepsy. It does, however, affect sixty to ninety percent of all patients.||
People suffering from this Narcolepsy symptom suffer from insomnia or poor sleep during night. They also tend to experience an increase in body movements even while they are asleep. This includes increased heart rate, intense alertness and hot flashes. Due to the lack of sufficient sleep at nighttime, these people’s daytime sleepiness worsens drastically.
|Hypnopompic and Hypnagogic Hallucinations – these symptoms and signs of Narcolepsy affects up to sixty-six percent of all patients.||
Narcolepsy and its symptoms can be terrifying. Often a sign that someone is suffering from Narcolepsy is that they experience sensory hallucinations. Often visual and audio hallucinations can be particularly scary events. When these occur while the person is asleep, they are referred to as hypnogogic hallucinations, while those that take place when he/she is waking up are termed hypnopompic. Hallucinations occur when the person falls to REM sleep suddenly. When we dream during these fast passages to REM sleep we may perceive the dreams as part of reality. This can be confusing and scary for those suffering from Narcolepsy.
|Sleep Paralysis – this Narcolepsy symptom affects sixty percent of patients.||
Sleep paralysis happens when the patient experiences an inability to speak or move temporarily. Loss of muscle control can happen upon waking up or while falling asleep. A few hear strange noises that may sound like voices or footsteps, while others feel like someone else is inside the room or somebody sitting on their chests. Although this condition is relatively harmless and rarely causes danger, it can scare people; especially those who are experiencing it for the first time.
|Automatic Behaviour – of the signs and symptoms of Narcolepsy, this one is among the rarest conditions.||
This happens during brief “sleep attacks” and episodes of this are also referred to as “microsleep” and often “sleepwalking”. When this happens, the affected person does not cease to function even when he/she is sleeping. People suffering from this Narcolepsy symptom perform routine activities that have already become familiar to them when they suddenly fall asleep while in class, taking showers, or driving. Although they continue to function, they obviously cannot properly perform their respective activities. This symptom relates to automatic behaviour while unconscious.
All these Narcolepsy symptoms may prove very hard to cope with and they can affect a person’s social, professional and family life. It may isolate a patient from the rest of society, eventually leading him/her to depression. Fortunately, they can learn treat and adapt to Narcolepsy symptoms.
If you experience any of the mentioned symptoms, you might mention Narcolepsy to your Doctor so that they can confirm or disprove if you have a chronic sleep disorder. Learning more about Narcolepsy symptoms could prove useful to those with this disorder as well. Information about Narcolepsy should be absorbed in abundance. We will learn things such as how changes in our lifestyle, sleep therapy, lifestyle changes, and prescription drugs may help us greatly reduce our symptoms of Narcolepsy.