Narcolepsy, often thought to be a sleep disorder, is in fact a pervasive neurologic disorder with a genetic origin that causes an autoimmune response affecting every body system and facet of life. It is a rare long-term disorder wherein the brain is unable to regulate the sleep cycle and causes excessive sleepiness during the day.
Some patients also deal with cataplexy or loss of muscle control. Cataplexy is triggered by strong emotions like anger or laughter.
Other symptoms of narcolepsy include frequent sleep disruption at night, hallucinations or having vivid dreams that seem real, and sleep paralysis or the inability to move while waking up or falling asleep.
Some of the cases, particularly those who also experience cataplexy, may be caused by low levels of hypocretin in the brain. This chemical is responsible for regulating the REM sleep and wakefulness. What causes the other cases of narcolepsy remains unclear.
The symptoms of narcolepsy can have a big impact on a patient’s life. Dozing off at work and in school not only hinders them from performing their best, it can also affect their relationship with schoolmates and teachers or with their supervisors and coworkers. Falling asleep in public places or when driving can also compromise the patient’s safety.
At present, there is no cure for narcolepsy although patients may be prescribed medications to control the symptoms. These include stimulants which aim to address sleepiness and antidepressants for cataplexy. Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and taking naps at certain times of the day also help patients better cope with narcolepsy.
Ben’s Friends is a network of safe and supportive online communities for individuals affected by a rare disease or chronic condition. Our Living with Narcolepsy Community aims to provide online support to people affected by narcolepsy. If you think you or someone you know would benefit from our community, we invite you to sign up here.