Narcolepsy Sleep Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

If you meet someone suffering from chronic excessive daytime sleepiness, chances are that he or she is suffering from one of the sleep disorders including: narcolepsy sleep disorder, sleep apnea or hypersomnolence.

Because several health conditions share the same symptom, excessive daytime sleepiness usually goes undiagnosed and obviously untreated as well. Soon enough, a time comes when the symptom completely overpowers the individual and jeopardizes any chance of the patient having any personal or professional life, worth talking about. Be that as it may, there are still some defining characteristics that are specific to a particular health condition. For example:

– The cause of onset of sleep apnea is neglected snoring and the age of onset is around 50 years. Narcolepsy starts to show during early teens or even early adulthood.
– it involves the patient experiencing sudden sleep attacks; hypersomnolence is all about increasing sleepiness spanning over some time.
– Daytime naps related to hypersomnolence are not rejuvenating, but narcoleptics find such frequent naps refreshing.
– Sleep apnea is the result of malfunctioning of the brain or obstructions in the air way. This disorder happens due to neurological dysfunction.

What exactly is this sleep condition?

Characterized by the single most important indicator – excessive daytime sleepiness, this condition originates from malfunctioning of the neurological system. This disorder is marked by sudden sleep attacks that strike without any prior warning. The patient also has interrupted sleep at night interspersed by frequent waking.

Symptoms: how to identify
– Maximum number of patients experience excessive daytime sleepiness (90%).
– The second most prevalent symptom is cataplexy (experienced by 75% patients). This entails sudden loss of muscle tone and triggered by extreme emotions like joy, laughter or even sadness.
– Hallucinations involving vivid dreams and nightmares are experienced by 30% of patients.
– Close to 25% patients report sleep paralysis that incapacitates them to talk or move on waking up.

Usually 50% of adult narcoleptics have reported that the symptoms began in their teen years, retrospectively.

Causes: why it happens

The precise causes behind this sleep problem are not known but the following health situations could be major contributing factors:

– Genetic predisposition
– Abnormal functioning of a neurotransmitter called hypocretin or orexin. Usually narcoleptics have low levels of this chemical in the brain. The reasons for the paucity or abnormal functioning of this chemical is considered to be injury or trauma to the brain, tumors, strokes, etc.
– Dysfunctional central nervous system
– Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
– Result of co-existing sleep disorders like snoring and sleep apnea.

Treatments and Alternative Solutions

Drugs and medication for narcoleptics aim to reduce excessive daytime sleepiness and frequency of cataplexy attacks by using antidepressants and stimulants of central nervous system. Such drugs include methylphenidate (Ritalin) and modafinil (Provigil). Clomipramine, imipramine, fluoxetine, or sodium oxybate are used for managing cataplexy.

Self-help involves sleeping for a minimum of 8 hours every night, quitting alcohol, doing moderate physical exercises, avoiding heavy meals and scheduling fixed-time naps during the day.

Marc MacDonald is a health researcher on hypersomnolence, obstructive sleep apnea, and deviated septum treatments, among others. Visit his website to gain more insight on this Narcolepsy sleep disorder.

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