Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that is best known for the overwhelming drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep that people who suffer from it experience throughout the day. It can result in serious disruptions in a person’s daily routine. There are cases where narcolepsy can cause a sudden loss of muscle tone, also known as cataplexy. This is type 1 narcolepsy. Type 2 narcolepsy occurs without cataplexy.

Symptoms Narcolepsy

Common symptoms include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, or EDS.
  • Cataplexy, the sudden loss of muscle tone. This symptom is triggered by intense emotions.
  • Hallucinations may happen right before you fall asleep or right after you wake up.
  • Sleep paralysis.
  • Disrupted sleep from breathing problems, body movements, or vivid dreams.

Causes of Narcolepsy

Right now, the exact cause remains unknown. Researchers believe that narcolepsy is caused by multiple problems in your brain that disturb your REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, which is a deeper stage of your sleep cycle. They also believe that it has a connection to your genes, specifically ones that control the chemicals that signal sleep and awake cycles. It may also be the result of the brain having a hard time creating a chemical called hypocretin. If you have a family history of narcolepsy, you may be at 20-40x higher risk of getting it.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you are experiencing daytime sleepiness that is affecting either your professional or personal life, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible to see if you are suffering from narcolepsy.

Can I Fix Narcolepsy?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure. However, there are treatment options to help you manage the symptoms. These options include:

  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol
  • Schedule daytime naps and have a controlled sleep schedule
  • Regular exercise
  • A controlled meal schedule
  • Stimulants to treat sleepiness
  • Antidepressants to treat any REM sleep issues
  • Pitolisant or Solriamfetol to help you stay awake
  • Sodium oxybate to treat cataplexy if you suffer from type 1 narcolepsy

If you have any questions about narcolepsy, contact our team at Pulmonary Associations of Richmond.