Narcolepsy – a medical condition that results in extreme tiredness, sleep paralysis and even hallucinations – is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Before understanding what narcolepsy is, it’s a good idea to know what narcolepsy isn’t. People with narcolepsy do not collapse or fall asleep without warning, they don’t act under the power of suggestion while asleep, they don’t fall or collapse before dozing, and their condition can’t be “cured” by simply getting more sleep. On the contrary, those with narcolepsy are not tired all the time nor do they find it hard to function in everyday situations. Like other medical conditions, narcolepsy can be managed under the guidance of a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. With this better understanding, here’s more of what you need to know about narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a Chronic Sleep Disorder
Being fatigued or having an underlying medical issue – like a heart condition – that results in feeling tired all the time is not the same as having narcolepsy. In fact, narcolepsy is a chronic neurological sleep disorder this is the result of the brain not being able to control the body’s sleep cycles. Those who are narcoleptic oftentimes feel extreme drowsiness during daylight hours, followed by sudden sleep attacks. It’s also common for narcoleptics to wake up throughout the night, adding to their exhaustion.
The average person enters the rapid eye movement (REM) stage within the first 90 minutes of sleep. When the brain starts to relax, dreaming begins. Because the brain and body are limp, the body doesn’t respond to the dreams. Contrary, those with narcolepsy enter REM within minutes of falling asleep. As such, the body and brain are not as relaxed as they could be, which is why those with narcolepsy experience cataplexy – a sudden feeling of weakness and loss of muscle tone as well as restlessness and outbursts of emotion such as laughter, fear, or excitement.
Causes of Narcolepsy
There is no single cause or condition that results in a diagnosis of narcolepsy. However, certain factors do appear to be consistent in those who are diagnosed with the condition. The more factors present in the person, the higher the probability that narcolepsy may be present. These conditions include an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack certain brain cells that contain hypocretin, which regulates wakefulness. The same is true of traumatic brain injuries and tumors in which the part of the brain that regulates wakefulness and REM is affected. A family history of narcolepsy may also put some at higher risk of developing the condition.
The most common symptoms of narcolepsy include excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis – the sensation that your mind is awake but your body is not. However, feeling tired all the time, dozing off at work or having restless nights doesn’t necessarily mean you have narcolepsy. In fact, those who do have narcolepsy often report similar symptoms to other medical conditions, such as Lyme disease, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, dementia and even epilepsy. If after evaluation it’s determined you are narcoleptic, expect a treatment plan that can help you manage your symptoms. This may include prescription medications, incorporating lifestyle changes and developing strategies to help you stay alert, rested and safe.
Narcolepsy Treatment in Charlotte and Concord, North Carolina
The first step to managing your narcolepsy is to get an accurate diagnosis from a board-certified sleep medicine specialist. If you live in or near Charlotte or Concord, you’re in luck! Dr. Jeannine Louise Gingras, a world-renowned expert in the field of sleep medicine and sleep-related research, has worked with thousands of patients, ensuring they get the sleep they need and deserve. If you or someone you care about is having sleep-related issues, call Gingras Sleep Medicine today at 704-944-0562 to learn more about how sleep disorders can affect your health and how the field of sleep medicine is like a dream come true for people seeking a lifetime of good sleep. Call today or request an appointment online.