Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes you feel overwhelmingly tired. It can be dangerous because, in severe cases, it can cause you to fall asleep suddenly in the middle of an activity.
How Does Narcolepsy Works?
The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but ongoing research shows that those with narcolepsy have low levels of hypocretin in their brains. Hypocretin is a chemical that regulates wakefulness. Common symptoms of narcolepsy can include:
- excessive daytime sleepiness
- sleep attacks
- cataplexy (muscle weakness/ sudden loss of muscle tone)
- sleep paralysis
- disrupted nighttime sleep
If you experience narcolepsy with cataplexy, then it is known as narcolepsy type 1, without cataplexy is known as type 2.
Who Has Narcolepsy?
They estimate approximately 200,000 men and women in the US have narcolepsy or 1 in 2000. Symptoms typically develop during teen or young adult years, and it is rarely diagnosed in children. Research suggests that it could be hereditary, caused by certain infections, brain injuries, autoimmune disorders, or environmental toxins.
If you have a family member diagnosed with narcolepsy and experience one of the other sleep factors above, you may be at a higher risk of developing narcolepsy.
How Is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
If narcolepsy is suspected, then our doctors will use a combination of medical history, physical exam, and an overnight sleep study. It is a rare disorder, making it challenging to diagnose and often takes years after the symptoms start to appear. We may ask you to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks to track your sleep and level of alertness throughout the day.
Which Doctor Should I See For Narcolepsy?
If you have discussed sleep problems with your primary care physician, they may refer you to a sleep specialist for diagnosis and treatment. A board-certified sleep specialist completes additional training and exams administered by the American Board of Sleep Medicine to specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. Learn more about our sleep experts.
Are Narcolepsy And Sleep Apnea Related?
While excessive daytime sleepiness is a symptom of narcolepsy and sleep apnea, they are very different sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when someone has one or more pauses in breathing while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, affecting about 18 million Americans.
Can Narcolepsy Be Cured?
There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, it can be managed through medications, lifestyle changes, and other therapies. A doctor may prescribe medications to make up for the low levels of hypocretin in your brain, sleep at night, and control the other symptoms you may be experiencing.
Lifestyle changes can make it easier to live with narcolepsy. This could be as simple as keeping a regular sleep schedule and limiting exercise, eating, and other stimulants before bed. For those with severe narcolepsy, it may be dangerous to drive, even short distances. However, napping before driving and having passengers to keep you aware and engaged can help if you approved to drive.
A board-certified sleep specialist can help you diagnose and manage sleep disorders. Call our offices or request an appointment online.