Narcolepsy and Cateplexy, plus Some Very Helpful Tips on Improving Our Sleep

I ran across this very useful information on Sleep Better Live and I'd like to share it with you.

Do you feel a sudden loss of muscle control and tone due to some strong emotion, say, sudden burst of laughter, excitement, or anger? It has been reported that some 50-90% of narcolepsy patients also suffer cataplexy, a condition characterized by the above symptoms.

These conditions are quite complex so this is a brief overview.

Narcolepsy, for those who are not familiar with it, is a rare condition (occurring in about 25 of 100,000 Caucasian people, figures in other groups not available) and begins to manifest around the time of adolescence. Patients are mostly male and the illness tends to be hereditary. Usually patients don’t sleep for longer than people without the sickness but their sleep patterns are more fragmented during the days and nights.

What might cause narcolepsy? Research is inconclusive but most point to a shortage of supply of a chemical called hypocretin. Hypocretin is produced by brain neurons in a person’s sleep/waking cycle. This underproduction of hypocretin may be triggered by suffering a head injury, an infection or undergoing a change in sleeping patterns (such as night work).

The symptoms manifest as an overwhelming and uncontrollable desire to sleep. The blackout episodes can last a few minutes or a few seconds but can occur at any time – during conversations, while eating, at work or school, but most dangerously, while driving. An onlooker may not be aware of the condition as the patient may appear awake, and so, may not respond appropriately to the danger. Due to these, it is very easy to see why narcolepsy may disrupt the normal everyday life of a sufferer and those around him.

Cataplexy, on the other hand, may be mistaken for any other illness or condition, like AVM, brain aneurysm and others. A person may suddenly feel facial muscles go slack, for example, or his speech may be slurred or vision suddenly turns blurred. However, there will be no loss of bladder or bowel movement and a person’s breathing will continue normally. A sudden cataplectic attack may be very frightening to onlookers!

As there is no treatment for narcolepsy, while cataplexy may reduce over time with treatment or improve of its own accord, there are some things patients can do to help themselves, such as:

1. Get a regular sleep routine of 7-8 hours at night. Whenever possible, try to do this to help calibrate your sleep pattern and help your brain recognized these patterns.

2. Schedule naps during the day. Taken at intervals that fall on idle hours may help prevent sleep coming at the most inconvenient situations.

3. Have a regular exercise. There is no substitute to physical activity to regulate bodily functions including training the brain to recognize signals.

4. Talk to friends, family, fellow workers or people you are most with about your condition. A cataplectic attack may be easily mistaken for cerebral stroke and may cause others to over-react. This can also be very frightening. Family and friends can learn to spot the signs of an impending attack so they can help you prevent injury.

5. Ask your doctor of any known drug suitable to your condition. This site is not intended to diagnose and prescribe treatment—everyone’s condition may simply be unique from the rest. It is best to seek medical advice.

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