If you have excessive daytime sleepiness with sudden and irrepressible sleep attacks and has a hard time staying awake for a long period of time, you may suffer from a chronic illness called narcolepsy.
This disease occurs due to decreased alertness caused by a deficit of hypocretin or orexin (a substance that is normally released in the hypothalamus and promotes wakefulness). The cause of the loss of cells that produce this substance in the brain is not known exactly, but is believed to have a probable autoimmune origin.
Some of the typical symptoms of narcolepsy are:- Excessive daytime sleepiness (usually the first symptom and the most prevalent): People with narcolepsy fall asleep without warning, anywhere, anytime.- Sudden loss of muscle tone (cataplexy) is uncontrollable and often triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, fear, surprise, etc.. Some people with narcolepsy experience only 1 or 2 episodes of cataplexy a year, while others may have multiple daily episodes. Not all people with narcolepsy have cataplexy.- Sleep Paralysis (which can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening): temporary inability to move or speak. Usually brief episodes of 1-2 minutes, but very distressing.- Hypnagogic hallucinations (those occurring at the time of falling asleep): semi-conscious state when it begins to dream that makes dreams are very real and very experienced.- Alterations in nocturnal sleep episodes of sleep fragmentation.- Other accompanying symptoms: reEEcurrentes naps throughout the day, automatic behaviors, etc.
Although symptoms of narcolepsy can appear at any age (from infancy to age 45-50) more often than the first symptoms appear between 10 and 25 years. However, the definitive diagnosis is delayed usually between 5 and 10 years, with consequent damage to the patient to remain all these years without proper treatment.
To correctly diagnose whether the patient suffers from narcolepsy should always perform a pre overnight polysomnography to assess the quantity and quality of patient's sleep during the night and the next day a Test Multiple Sleep Latency (MSLT) that will serve to confirm or no diagnosis.
Treatment of narcolepsy
Treatment should include both pharmacological measures to treat daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, and nonpharmacological measures based on both patient education as to their immediate environment to help better understand the disease. They will also be key factors for the patient to maintain proper sleep hygiene. And make some changes in habits and lifestyle.