Narcolepsy and depression are two ailments that can exist free of each other, but are more often than not linked due to the stress a person goes through when living with narcolepsy. Depression is one of the secondary signs and symptoms of narcolepsy, which without treatment, can really make someone, feel like their life is “in a hole”. A person with narcolepsy may discover that friendships and/or personal relationships are suffering because of their disorder. Maybe they are a college student and their grade point average has dropped off. Whatever the case, these are signs that depression is playing a role in their life. By exploring depression and the symptoms of narcolepsy we can begin to understand what a person goes through when living with both of these disorders.
Signs of Depression and Narcolepsy Symptoms
Excessive daytime sleepiness (E.D.S.) is a narcolepsy symptom that causes a person to feel extreme sleepiness during times when they should be alert and awake. This can cause ridicule from co-workers or friends if they do not know about the person’s condition. This in turn can lead to a state of depression, and possibly suicidal thinking, in the person suffering with narcolepsy.
Cataplexy is the sudden and uncontrollable loss of muscle control associated with narcolepsy. This loss of muscle control usually affects the face muscles and/or leg muscles, the latter causing falls and possible serious injury. This in turn can leave a narcoleptic patient filled with self-doubt, and feeling useless or worthless, which is a major sign of depression.
Sleep paralysis is when the brain shuts off or disconnects from the body, leaving a person aware of their surroundings, but unable to move or speak. This happens when the person is falling asleep, which is called hypnogogic, or when they are entering R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is called hypnopompic. This is a frightening experience for the person due to the hallucinations that usually accompany this paralytic state. This can leave a person with this chronic sleep disorder feel like their life not based in reality and that they are actually going insane.
Hallucinations or hallucinating is when a person sees and/or hears things that are not there. This dream-like state is very vivid and extremely convincing. This can leave the narcoleptic person with the feeling of being haunted by demons, which induces a fear of sleeping.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes the inability to stay asleep at night. If this is left untreated it can lead to other narcolepsy symptoms such as cataplexy, E.D.S. (excessive daytime sleepiness) and even hallucinations. These symptoms combined can lead to severe depression in narcolepsy patients. Sleepwalking is common for people with insomnia.
Some other signs of depression associated with narcolepsy are:
- Lack of interest in activities
- Lack of interest in food/loss of appetite
- Avoiding social situations
- Failing relationships (friends, family, co-workers, dating)
Ways to Treat Narcolepsy Depressions
Anyone can have a chronic sleep disorder. These disorders know no age or color and can happen any time, day or night. If the person does not act to prevent their narcolepsy and depressive disorder, severe health issues will take control of their life. Luckily for the world there is advanced medical research that can help take the symptoms of narcolepsy and depression away.
The drugs used in the treatment of narcolepsy are antidepressants, stimulants and sodium oxybate. Each of these drug types have their own purpose, and are prescribed depending on the symptoms found in the patient.
Stimulants are used to treat E.D.S. and cataplexy. They serve as a jump start for the central nervous system, which helps the person stay awake and alert. Common stimulants used to treat narcolepsy patients are Provigil and Nuvigil. Ironically, these stimulants are not recommended for people with a history of depression, as the number one side effect is suicidal thinking.
Antidepressants are used to treat cataplexy, hallucinations due to sleep paralysis and depression itself. The most popular antidepressants prescribed by doctors are Prozac and Zoloft. The side effects for both of these are minimal.
Sodium oxybate is the “out in left field” drug amongst the others, as it is a liquid and must be taken in small doses throughout the night. Sodium oxybate is used to help a person fall asleep, to control cataplexy, E.D.S. and sleepwalking during the nighttime. If this drug is abused, coma and even death may occur.
Tricyclic antidepressants are a type of medication that is not commonly prescribed anymore, due to the severe side effects they produce in narcolepsy patients. These types of drugs were said to have been excellent in the treatment of cataplexy.
Other remedies for treating narcolepsy and depression are the non-medical changes made to the daily living routines by the patients themselves. These include:
- Stretching and deep breathing to lessen mental stress
- Join support groups
- Seek counseling
- Avoid alcoholic beverages and illegal drug use
- Avoid over the counter medications that produce drowsiness
- Maintain a healthy diet by avoiding fats, sugars, nicotine and caffeine
- Avoid nighttime work
- Follow a set schedule for meals, medications and bedtime
- Plan naps for controlled time sleep
- Try walking to work instead of driving
- Tell the boss/co-workers, friends, family… be open
- Stay positive
- Wear a medical alert bracelet or dog tags
- Tell your doctor EVERYTHING
These treatments are usually best when combined with the medications prescribed by the doctor. Together with the help of loved ones and/or co-workers, narcolepsy and the depression that can accompany its symptoms can be addressed correctly.
No one who has narcolepsy and depression has to suffer. The first thing people in this situation should do is realize that they are not alone, as over three million people in the world today has narcolepsy and around sixty-five percent of these people also suffer from depression. With the proper encouragement from peers and a comprehensive treatment plan, narcolepsy and depression can be conquered.