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10 Things You May Not Know Unless You Have Narcolepsy

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10 Things You Might Not Know Unless You Have Narcolepsy Daddy Cool/Fotolia

Chances are, unless you have narcolepsy, all you've ever heard about it could be summed up in a few jokes or sight gags on TV. It hasn't had a lot of press. Not the factual kind, at any rate.

Maybe you didn't even know that narcolepsy is a real condition that real people suffer from. But for those who have narcolepsy, it is a very real condition that ensnares them in some very real problems.

Here are some things that the average person probably doesn't know. Read on, and learn more about it. The people who suffer from narcolepsy would appreciate it.

1) Narcolepsy is a neurological condition that leaves the brain unable to regulate sleep-wake cycles.

Narcolepsy can cause insomnia at night when you want to be asleep. It can leave you drowsy and foggy during the day, hardly able to stay awake for hours at a time. It can also cause what may best be described as sudden sleep attacks that can happen anytime.

This tragic disorder has been played out in movies and sitcoms, as the hapless character suddenly falls asleep in mid-sentence, falling to the ground or face-planting in their food. Not so funny when the reality is known, is it.

2) Narcolepsy causes REM sleep to happen much earlier in the sleep cycle.

People who have normal sleep move from the early stages into deeper sleep, ending up in rapid eye movement sleep after about an hour and a half. Conversely, people who have narcolepsy fall very quickly into REM even during the waking hours.

3) Most known cases occur by 25 years of age.

WebMD.com says the majority of known cases happen between ages 15 and 25. Mayoclinic.org says they emerge between ages 10 and 25.

Any age can be at risk for narcolepsy, though. Very often the condition remains undiagnosed, which means it is also not treated, bringing great complications to a life.

4) We're still guessing as to what causes narcolepsy.

Research seems to indicate, though, that some genes which regulate sleep/wake brain chemicals may be linked with the condition. It may be related to a lack of hypocretin, a chemical manufactured in the brain. Hypocretin controls wakefulness and REM sleep.

According to Mayoclinc.org, researchers have posited that some cases of narcolepsy has emerged after being exposed to the H1N1 virus, as well as inoculation with a particular form of H1N1 vaccine in Europe.

5) Narcolepsy symptoms and related conditions are serious business.

Some symptoms of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis.

People with narcolepsy may unwillingly act out dreams, kicking and screaming. For some, a type of automatic behavior can occur during a sleep attack. Even though they are sleeping, if the attack occurred during some routine activity, the person may continue with their activity.

Narcolepsy may be coupled with some other sleep disorders such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

6) Episodes of cataplexy are caused by strong emotions.

Cataplexy affects muscle tone and movement, as a response to strong emotions like anger or surprise, or even laughter.

Muscle tone decreases suddenly, leaving the person with narcolepsy temporarily without voluntary muscle control, and feeling weak. The person may collapse, depending on which muscles are weakened. Speech can be slurred.

People who experience cataplexy may have very low levels of hypocretin. Some researchers speculate that this may be related to an autoimmune response.

7) Excessive daytime sleepiness makes it hard to carry on.

Excessive daytime sleepiness brings on brain fog, low energy and problems with concentration. Forgetfulness, depression and profound fatigue can make getting through the day an arduous and bleak task.

Many activities that the average person considers normal can be out of reach. For instance, a person who has been diagnosed with narcolepsy frequently will be unable to drive, or get a driver's licence, or car insurance. Driving is possible in rare cases, if a doctor feels that the patient's symptoms are completely controlled by medication.

8) Hallucinations can happen any time.

These delusions are usually visual, often vivid and terrifying. Other senses are sometimes involved. Hypnopompic hallucinations are hallucinations that occur when the person awakes. Hypnagogic hallucinations are those that can occur when the person falls asleep.

9) Sleep paralysis leaves the individual unable to move.

Sleep paralysis is similar to something that happens during REM sleep in a normal sleep cycle. While going to sleep or waking up, an inability to speak or to move a muscle can occur.

Fortunately for the person with narcolepsy, this usually lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. Unfortunately, it's completely incapacitating for its duration.

10) Weight gain is very common.

Unwanted weight gain is yet another problem for many people with narcolepsy. This may possibly be from a combination of binge eating, lack of activity, and being on medication.

Narcolepsy Symptoms Can Have Dire Consequences

As you can see, narcolepsy is no laughing matter. The person with narcolepsy, whether diagnosed or not, lives a life of being misunderstood.

Other people may think they are lazy, or unmotivated, or selfish. If they avoid social situations because they don't know what might happen, they may be considered antisocial, hermit, or uninterested in others.

They may insulate themselves from emotional involvement because of the risk of cataplexy. They may avoid people or situations that inspire strong feelings for fear of falling asleep or becoming paralyzed, or an astonishing variety of other unpleasantness.

More research is required. Answers are desperately needed for the people who suffer from this condition.

Visit Jody's website at http://www.ncubator.ca

Reviewed March 7, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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