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Are you one of those people who can drop off to sleep anywhere? Do you find that you are going to sleep at inappropriate times? Are you constantly fighting to stay awake during the day despite having a good night’s sleep? If so, you may be suffering from a condition called Narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a condition in which the sufferer has episodes in which he/she suddenly falls asleep. These episodes are uncontrollable and can last for anything from a few minutes to hours after which the person will awake feeling refreshed and fully alert. There are usually several episodes in a day.
Often, these attacks occur following a meal but they can happen at any time during the person’s waking hours.
The condition does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity or socio-economic background. It does normally become evident between the ages of 15 to 25 but can affect young children as well as the elderly.
Imagine the effect this condition can have on the lifestyle and the quality of life of the person. The person may be in class or in a meeting with colleagues when he suddenly just drops off to sleep. He may be at a party, crossing a street, having sex or, worse still, driving a vehicle when one of these episodes occurs. As you can see, the results of this illness could be catastrophic for both the sufferer and for the people around him.
The cause of Narcolepsy is unknown but it is agreed that it involves a malfunction of the neurotransmitters, the part of the brain that controls sleep and awake states. It is also possible that hormones such as melatonin may be maladjusted, thus failing to do their job which is to control normal sleep patterns.
There are also three auxiliary conditions associated with Narcolepsy. These are called cataplexy, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.
Cataplexy involves sudden, temporary muscle weakness and is the most common secondary condition to Narcolepsy. Cataplexy is believed to occur during intense emotional states such as anger or excitement. During a Cataplectic attack, the person is totally aware and has total recall of the attack later on.
Hallucinations occur quite frequently in people with Narcolepsy and can be visual, audible, or tactile. These hallucinations can be terrifying for the person as they are similar to bad nightmares. Historically, people with these hallucinations accompanying Narcolepsy were misdiagnosed as having Schizophrenia.
Sleep Paralysis describes the feeling of not being able to move immediately before falling asleep and upon wakening. It usually lasts anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour and is generally accompanied by hallucinations.
Because Narcolepsy is not curable, the condition is treated symptomatically. This involves a strict sleep regime such as proper night-time sleep, avoidance of shift work and alcohol, and taking short scheduled naps throughout the day
The main drug therapy used in Narcolepsy is stimulants. Sufferers of this condition are also encouraged to drink more coffee and caffeinated drinks to help control their need for sleep.
In treating the auxiliary conditions of cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis, the person is often prescribed antidepressants
Prevention of the attacks is obviously a very important factor and can be assisted by simply following a sensible sleep regime at night, taking daytime naps where possible, avoiding heavy meals, and the intake of more caffeine.
Emotional support is another important factor. The person needs to have friends and family who can understand what is happening and not become upset by it, thus increasing the stress and anxiety that the person is probably already feeling. Obviously, if the person is married or in a relationship, their partner needs to be very understanding and supportive.
In summary, Narcolepsy is characterized by uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep. This may be accompanied by muscle weakness, hallucinations, and/or sleep paralysis. There is no cure and treatment is symptomatic. It is important to take preventative measures to avoid these episodes so that you can live a reasonably good lifestyle.
Copyright 2006 Anne Wolski