Narcolepsy is a rare neurological condition which affects the brain’s ability to regulate its sleep/wake cycle, causing sufferers to fall asleep at inappropriate times. It can result in sleep attacks, when someone falls asleep suddenly without warning, excessive drowsiness during the day, excessive dreaming and waking during the night and a temporary loss of muscle control in response to certain emotions.
Narcolepsy has no known cause, but it has been observed that hormonal changes, major psychological stress or a major infection could trigger the condition. Lifestyle changes and medication can help to manage the symptoms of narcolepsy, allowing sufferers to minimise daily tiredness.
“Narcolepsy is a rare condition that may be confused for being a different sleep disorder or disregarded as simply fatigue. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that needs to be managed as the symptoms can seriously impact a sufferer’s daily life. It’s important to get a diagnosis from a GP so that adjustments can be made in your personal and working life to help keep your condition under control. With the right support and treatment narcolepsy patients can live a normal life.”
What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is often called a sleep disorder as it is a condition that affects the sleep/wake cycle. However, it is a condition that affects the brain’s ability to regulate this cycle and is therefore technically a neurological disorder. Narcolepsy is a rare but extreme neurological disorder that can severely impact a sufferer’s daily life. There is reported to be around 30,000 narcolepsy sufferers in the UK, many of who may not know they have the disorder.
Narcolepsy is a lot more than simply feeling tired all of the time, this disorder impacts every aspect of a sufferer’s daily life and can be debilitating. Narcolepsy involves involuntarily falling asleep at any time and without warning, this may be during work, at school and more dangerously, whilst driving. The normal ability to regulate patterns of sleep and being awake is non-existent in people with narcolepsy, so whereas you sleep during the night and are awake during the day narcolepsy sufferers cannot control when they will be asleep or awake. This disorder causes many symptoms which primarily affect the ability to have quality sleep.
Symptoms of narcolepsy include:
- Sleep attacks - suddenly falling asleep without warning
- Drowsiness during the day
- Disruptive sleep and excessive dreaming at night
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of muscle control known as cataplexy - sufferers will feel weak or collapse during heightened emotions such as anger or laughter
- Sleep paralysis - inability to move or speak when falling asleep, this is temporary
Narcolepsy sufferers will often fall asleep at inappropriate times, feel extreme tiredness and drowsiness and may feel low in mood as a result. Although it’s a chronic condition there are no other serious health problems related to narcolepsy. Many people experience symptoms at different levels with symptoms occurring more frequently in some sufferers than others.
What causes narcolepsy?
There is no known cause of why the brain cannot regulate the sleep/wake cycle, but there are a number of cases that have had certain triggers which suggest causes of this disorder. Narcolepsy affects both men and women and can be diagnosed at any age. Most diagnosed cases are caused by a lack of hypocretin, a chemical in the brain which regulates the sleep/wake cycle, and some cases can be caused by trauma. It’s thought that major psychological trauma or a serious infection may cause an autoimmune problem and increase the risk of narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy may also be caused by trauma or injury to the brain, in some patients with a brain tumour narcolepsy may develop through damage to the part of the brain which produces hypocretin. Drastic hormonal changes such as puberty and the menopause may also be a trigger for changing sleeping patterns and the onset of narcolepsy. There are a number of factors which may contribute to hypocretin deficiency and disturbances in sleep. Putting together a diary of when your sleep attacks occur will enable you to determine your triggers.
How does narcolepsy affect a person’s life?
Having quality sleep is so important for our health and psychological development. It allows our bodies to heal and repair to help us fight illnesses, grow and perform at our best. Repeated sleep deprivation or lack of quality sleep has been linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease and obesity, as well as significant mood changes. Sufferers often feel irritable, depressed and anxious which shows just how important sleep is to the healthy function of the human body.
The UK is a sleep deprived nation with many people suffering from the effects in both their personal and working life. Approximately 200,000 working days are lost through people not being able to work due to lack of sleep, according to the Guardian. This is certainly the case with narcolepsy sufferers as this is a chronic condition that not only causes lack of quality sleep, but also causes people to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times such as at work. If this condition is not managed some people may need to give up certain parts of their life such as driving, work (depending on how chronic their condition is), and even relationships if the condition is causing you and your partner emotional distress.
Although narcolepsy is rare there is help, support and treatment available to help manage your symptoms so you can live a normal life.
What treatment is available for narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a rare condition and there is no cure at present but there are methods to manage the condition and limit the impact it has on your life. With narcolepsy it’s important to get into a sleep routine and stick to it. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time will improve your sleeping pattern. Avoid anything that might stimulate you before bed such as caffeine and technology and try to relax yourself in preparation for sleep. Good sleeping habits at night will reduce drowsiness in the day.
Counselling can also help with the emotional effects of narcolepsy and allow you to understand your condition so you are less anxious and worried. If you’re anxious or worried about how your condition might be affecting your ability to work it’s important to get these concerns out in the open and discuss your situation with your GP and employer to put together a plan that helps manage your condition. You may need to take brief naps throughout the day to combat excessive drowsiness.
Getting a sleep routine in place will certainly help but you may also need the aid of medication. Stimulants such as Modafinil are prescribed to adult sufferers to keep them awake and alert during the day by acting on the central nervous system. You can buy Modafinil online via Doctor-4-U.
Who is modafinil suitable for?
Before buying medication it’s important that you get a proper diagnosis from a GP. A GP will diagnose your condition through sleep analysis and ruling out any other conditions which may be causing your sleep disorder. If your diagnosis has clarified that you have narcolepsy, stimulant medication may be suitable for you. Whether you are suitable for Modafinil depends on whether you have any additional health conditions or are taking any other medication. It may not be suitable if you are allergic to modafinil, have an irregular heartbeat or high blood pressure. Your suitability for this medication can be discussed with our online doctors via a medical questionnaire.