The condition of narcolepsy can cause sleeping attack and fatigue. Here are the symptoms, causes and treatment for the same. Read on.
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep neurological disorder which causes excessive and uncontrollable daytime drowsiness. It means that the need to sleep is very high and the person wants to sleep multiple times in a day. People who are suffering from this disease are called narcoleptic patients and they can fall asleep absolutely anywhere, even while working. These patients also face laziness is their daily life. Due to the disease, they face some major problems when they try to focus on a task and it is challenging for them to maintain a fully-functional lifestyle. Muscle paralysis and disrupted sleep are explaining symptoms of narcolepsy.
When we start feeling sleepy, we enter into the final stage of deep sleep after a while, which is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and that comes after approximately 90 minutes. There is a sudden loss of energy and extreme weakness, along with sleepy attacks. Type 1 narcolepsy comes with a sudden loss of muscle and energy that causes a lot of weakness and you might not be able to control your own muscle, also called cataplexy. Type 2 narcolepsy is excess sleepiness or sleeping attacks without cataplexy. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Soumiya Mudgal, Consultant, Psychiatrist, Max Hospital, Gurgaon, to talk about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of sleeping attacks or narcolepsy.
According to Dr. Soumiya, a person suffering from narcolepsy might fall asleep instantly during the day, even when they are occupied in a task such as talking to another person, working in a factory, bathing in a bathtub or even while driving, which can lead to an accident, which can potentially be a life hazard. It is difficult to maintain jobs, do well in school, and to maintain personal relationships due to the attacks of excessive daytime sleepiness and it is very common. Your metabolism might also become slower due to these signs. To be safe, such patients should avoid working in hazardous work space or work with heavy machinery. So, the main symptoms of narcolepsy are:
1. Daytime sleepiness
This is the most common and early sign of narcolepsy. You might feel very sleepy during daytime and it will get difficult to manage professional as well as personal life. In this narcolepsy symptom, it might even get difficult to talk to someone without dozing off.
2. Rapid eye movement (REM)
In rapid eye movement, your eyes start moving rapidly in various directions, which indicates a deep sleep. In this symptom, you might be able to have a deep connection with your brain's neurons and you are surely dreaming.
In cataplexy, you lose total muscle control and feel a sudden loss of energy. You might feel weak and just the need to sleep or rest. Even your whole body can collapse totally in this symptom of narcolepsy. This might happen several times in a day or occur after a gap of 2-3 weeks.
Another symptom of sleeping attacks is hallucination. People with narcolepsy may have vivid hallucinations while experiencing sleep paralysis alongside. The hallucinations usually occur when falling asleep or waking up. And, this can lead to a disturbed life.
5. Sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis is when you are unable to move or talk while falling asleep, while sleeping or even when you are waking up. The occurrences of sleep paralysis may last only for a few second or minutes and not for a longer period of time. Sleep paralysis does not affect your eye movements but just your laid-back attitude towards moving or speaking.
The exact cause of narcolepsy has not yet been identified. But the main factors behind it are due to lack of hypocretin levels, gene factor, trauma or brain tumor. Your sleep cycle can get affected and you can experience sleeping attacks due to all these reasons. Some other causes include stress and infection. As per Dr. Soumiya, here are the main causes of narcolepsy:
So, narcolepsy is caused majorly due to the lack of protein called "Hypocretin" Or "Orexin", which is a chemical found in the neurons of the brain. This chemical is responsible for regulating a set of vital body functions, including sleep/wake states, feeding behaviour,, energy homeostasis, reward systems, cognition and mood.
2. Loss of hypothalamic neurons
It is suggested that the deficiency is caused because of loss of hypothalamic neurons. It is suggested that the loss of these neurons is caused when our immune systems mistakenly counters the hypothalamus (part of a brain) which is responsible for the production of hypocretin.
3. Genetic factor
Narcolepsy is a genetic disorder which means that it can be passed down hereditary disorder. It has an autosomal dominate occurrence pattern which means that a single copy of the disease-associated mutation is enough to cause the disease. This mutation is located in non-sex chromosome. This is known as Type-1 Narcolepsy. Soz if you have a family history of narcoleptic patients, you are at a higher risk.
Subsequently, there can be other medical reasons for the occurrence of narcolepsy such as trauma which can cause secondary narcolepsy. Brain trauma can contribute to post-traumatic narcolepsy despite lack of any definite brain lesion.
You should surely visit your doctor if you are also experiencing too much daytime sleepiness. According to DRM Saumiya, narcolepsy is usually diagnosed after 3-4 months of persistent symptoms.The doctors try to figure out what is causing the patients to suddenly fall asleep at work or even while being busy in the day time even after having a decent sleep at night. It is basically diagnosed by clinical diagnosis and/or sleep study of the patient over 24 hours. The doctors try to notice the changes in the sleep patterns and the REM cycles. Checking the medical history is important in this sleeping disorder. Your doctor might also run some tests and evaluations such as Polysomnogram (PSG) testing, Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) and he might ask you to maintain a diary to note down and keep a track of your sleeping pattern for atleast a week or so.
Dr. Soumiya said, "To treat narcolepsy, patients are usually prescribed psycho stimulants and stimulant-based medications during the day so that the person stays awake as much as possible and manage excessive day time sleeping. Unfortunately, lifestyle moderations are not of much help in narcolepsy. To be safe, narcoleptic patients should avoid working in hazardous workspaces or work with heavy machines." Narcolepsy is a chronic condition and doesn't have any specific cure as such. However, there are some treatments that can be done to reduce the symptoms. Medications and some modifications can help you manage the condition. You can take the medicines as prescribed by the doctor.
So, these were the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of narcolepsy or sleeping attacks by Dr. Soumiya Mudgal. You should talk to your doctor as soon as you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms. It can be very difficult to live with narcolepsy as it can be extremely challenging. Excessive sleeping episodes can lead to stress and a heavy mind. You might hurt yourself unintentionally due to this sleeping disorder. However, you can manage it and get treated by realising and getting diagnosed on time.
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