What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological condition which impairs the ability of the central nervous system to regulate sleep. Individuals with narcolepsy typically experience disturbed sleep (often confused with insomnia) and abnormal rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Narcolepsy affects about 1 in 2,000 people. Most individuals experience their first symptoms between the ages of 10 and 25. Evidence suggests that the condition is genetic, and while it is a lifelong condition, it does not usually get progressively worse. However, narcolepsy is a serious disorder with potential physical, mental, and social consequences.
What are the symptoms of Narcolepsy?
- Excessive daytime sleepiness. Impossible to stay awake and often have uncontrollable sleepiness during the day.
- Abnormal REM sleep. Dream right after falling asleep, whereas most people take about 90 minutes to enter the REM phase.
- Hypnagogic hallucinations. Experience vivid, sometimes frightening, visual or auditory sensations while falling asleep or upon awakening.
- Cataplexy. Sudden loss of muscle control while awake, usually experienced during strong emotion such as anger, grief, or while laughing.
- Sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is the inability to move or talk at the beginning or end of sleep. About 25 to 50% of narcolepsy sufferers experience sleep paralysis.
- Nighttime wakefulness. Periods of wakefulness at night. This disrupted nighttime sleep adds to daytime sleepiness.
How is Narcolepsy diagnosed?
In making a diagnosis of Narcolepsy, your doctor will ask you about your sleeping habits, how much sleep you get at night, if you wake up at night, and whether you fall asleep during the day. Your doctor will also want to know if you are having any emotional problems or are taking any drugs that may be interfering with your sleep.
Your doctor may also order some tests, including blood tests, computed tomography (CT) scans, and a sleep test called polysomnography (PSG or NPSG) or a Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT). Another test that may be ordered is a Hypocretin test. This test measures the level of hypocretin in the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord. Most people who have narcolepsy have low levels of hypocretin. Hypocretin is a chemical that helps promote wakefulness.
How is Narcolepsy treated?
If you are diagnosed with Narcolepsy, your doctor may suggest changes to your sleep environment and sleep routines or prescribe medications.