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Narcolepsy

Despite getting a good night of sleep, do you find yourself nodding off in the middle of the day without warning? This has not occurred just once, but on multiple occasions. And you know it is not from boredom, so what could it be? If this sounds like you, there is a good chance that you might have a condition that causes excessive sleepiness during the day: narcolepsy.

Why Does Narcolepsy Occur?

It is theorized that narcolepsy is linked to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which causes humans to dream. Individuals with this condition get “sleep attacks” whereby they are overcome by an incredible urge to sleep as well as sudden loss of muscle control and tone known as cataplexy. These attacks can occur without warning but the hallmark of narcolepsy is daytime sleepiness. Other associated symptoms could be difficulty thinking and waking in the morning, naps don’t help offset daytime sleepiness, appetite loss, memory problems and personality changes such as anxiety and irritability.

There are a number of triggers that can precipitate a narcoleptic episode such as sudden extremes in emotion, i.e. excitement and anger. In addition, when narcoleptics doze during the day they might experience hallucinations or frightening dreams. Due to the fact that these hallucinations occur when narcoleptics are half-awake, the dreams or visions are quite vivid and real.

How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed and Treated?

A diagnosis of narcolepsy is determined upon physical examination, blood work and sleep study with additional tests sometimes being required. Narcolepsy can be treated with medication such as stimulants (improve daytime wakefulness), or antidepressants (decrease cataplexy and hallucinations). Other helpful tips to offset narcolepsy symptoms are taking 2-3 naps a day, following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, going to sleep at the same time on a consistent basis and relaxing before bed.

Are There Other Causes of Daytime Sleepiness?

Narcolepsy is not the only culprit that causes daytime sleepiness. There are specific medical conditions that are intimately associated with daytime sleepiness:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Obesity
  • Restless Leg Syndrome

Some other non-medical causes include the following:

  • Intentionally not getting enough sleep
  • Working at night instead of the day
  • Usage of certain medications

Can You Have Both Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea?

In a study published in Sleep Medicine, researchers discovered that an individual can have both obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and narcolepsy. OSA is defined as an obstruction of your airway that results in stoppage of breathing multiple times during an hour at night. The study’s results demonstrated that an original diagnosis of only OSA can delay a narcolepsy diagnosis by 6.1 to 7.8 years on average. They concluded that evaluating people with known OSA for cataplexy can assist in excluding narcolepsy. As an aside, this study also determined that sleep apnea patients treated with traditional continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) did not see an improvement with regard to daytime sleepiness when they also were found to have narcolepsy.

 

If you suspect you have narcolepsy or sleep apnea, or been diagnosed and would like to find out what individualized treatment option might be available for you, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.

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