Just a few decades ago nobody had really heard of narcolepsy. Luckily however, awareness has now increased around this fairly uncommon but chronic sleep disorder.
People who suffer with narcolepsy often have an overwhelming need to sleep suddenly, particularly in the daytime. They may even fall asleep in dangerous circumstances, such as while crossing the road, or have trouble staying awake for long periods of time.
Certain people living with type 1 narcolepsy will also experience a sudden loss of muscle tone (called “cataplexy”). This tends to be triggered when the person is experiencing strong emotions, such as fear, excitement or anger. Narcolepsy that occurs without cataplexy is referred to as type 2 narcolepsy.
Although there’s no known cure for narcolepsy, there are some useful things you can do which we’ll look at later on.
What are the other symptoms of narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy appears to be due a problem with the REM sleep cycle. As well as cataplexy, other symptoms often include:
It may be difficult or impossible to move your body while you’re just waking off, or as you nod off. This is temporary (if rather unnerving), lasting from a few seconds to several minutes.
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
EDS typically occurs even if the sufferer has had plenty of sleep the night before. It can make daily activities hard, as a lack of energy making concentrating difficult. Sufferers often report feeling completely exhausted, depressed, and often forgetful.
Narcolepsy can bring about vivid dreams or lucid dreaming as well as difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. Some people also experience jerky body movements and problems breathing.
Sometimes these can be very lifelike and frightening. Usually these hallucinations are only visual, but occasionally can be auditory as well. If they happen as the sufferer is falling asleep, they’re known as hypnagogic hallucinations. If they occur as they’re waking up, they’re called hypnopompic hallucinations.
Treatments for narcolepsy
There are a number of narcolepsy treatments available, although it may be a case of trying a few things to discover one that works for you. Many people find a combination of lifestyle changes and medication is the key.
Your doctor is likely to prescribe one of several drugs to help alleviate your narcolepsy symptoms. If your episodes of narcolepsy include cataplexy, sodium oxybate is a popular and highly effective treatment. But of course, your doctor is the best person to go to for advice, and he or she will be able to prescribe the correct course of treatment for your specific needs.
Alongside medication, there are some simple lifestyle changes you can also make to help manage sleep disorders like narcolepsy.
First off, try and maintain a regular sleep routine where you always go to bed and get up at the same time (even if you need an alarm clock!).
It’s also a good idea to take short, planned naps throughout the day – again use an alarm clocks so you don’t sleep for too long. And make sure you don’t overdo the caffeine, but get plenty of exercise and go for a natural, balanced diet.
Secondly, make sure your bedroom is conducive to restful sleep. Limit screen time as much as possible, as the blue light emitted by your phone, laptop, TV or tablet is likely to stimulate your brain and keep you awake. Also make sure you have a comfy but supportive pillow (our Ultimate Side Sleeper, Back Sleeper and Front Sleeper pillows are ideal) and that you’re not too hot (this is where our Cooling Mattress Topper comes in handy, even in winter).
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