Narcolepsy is a neurological condition in which the part of the brain that dictates when to sleep and when to be awake is affected. A person suffering from narcolepsy can fall asleep during regular daytime activities like driving and working. Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, but it is manageable, and people with narcolepsy can live a normal, healthy life with medical assistance and lifestyle changes.

Common Symptoms of Narcolepsy:

Each person with narcolepsy may experience very different symptoms and sometimes the only symptom they can report on is extreme daytime tiredness, which may make it hard to diagnose narcolepsy. Other narcolepsy symptoms include:

  • Suddenly falling asleep, even when not trying or wanting to
  • Cataplexy, or sudden loss of muscle control
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Microsleep (period of sleep in which a person still functions as if awake, but has no recollection of it upon waking up)
  • Wakefulness during the nighttime
  • Quickly entering REM sleep – the deep sleep in which a person dreams

What Causes Narcolepsy?

The causes of narcolepsy aren’t known quite yet, but scientists believe it is a genetic condition. Narcolepsy can possibly be the result of an environmental cause like a virus or illness that affects brain chemicals and function. Narcoleptics typically have less of the brain chemical hypocretin, which regulates sleepiness and alertness. Often, narcolepsy goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because doctors confuse it with other conditions or sleep disorders. The trademark symptom of narcolepsy is cataplexy though, so if you have experienced this be sure to tell your doctor.

Treatment for Narcolepsy

People with narcolepsy can live perfectly normal lives with help from their doctor and certain lifestyle guidelines. It’s important to seek help, because suddenly falling asleep while driving, walking, cooking, et cetera, can obviously be very dangerous. There is no known cure at this point, but there is treatment. Treatment is usually best when combining therapy, medication, and behavioral changes. Talking with a counselor or joining a support group for narcoleptics can help you cope with your sleep disorder, and will reassure you that there are people who understand. Behavioral changes like scheduling naps, avoiding alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, avoiding sleep inducing medicines, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet can help. It’s also a good idea to involve your friends, family and coworkers. Though it can be embarrassing to a narcoleptic to talk openly about it, the more people who surround you that are aware of the problem, the more they can help you and be there for you during a sudden sleep episode. There are also medications such as stimulants or antidepressants that your doctor can prescribe as necessary.

What Should You Do?

If you are suffering from narcolepsy, or suspect that you might have this condition, it’s very important to talk with your doctor about it. Be sure to explain all of your symptoms in order to avoid being misdiagnosed. Make healthy lifestyle changes and take the advice of your doctor or sleep specialist. Be sure to inform those around you of your condition so that they can assure your safety. It’s a good idea to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace to inform people of what is happening should you have a sudden sleep episode. With a healthy lifestyle, help from medical professionals, and open communication about narcolepsy, you can live a perfectly normal life.

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