Most people have never heard of the phrase sleep attacks, but people living with narcolepsy deal with these moments chronically. Narcolepsy is not talked about enough and many people do not know what the term truly entails. At our Glendale, Peoria and Surprise locations, we are prepared to help you live life to the fullest and treat narcolepsy so that you no longer have to suffer from its debilitating effects. Narcolepsy is a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. Those suffering from this disorder experience periods of extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden, irresistible bouts of sleep that can strike at any time. These “sleep attacks” usually last a few seconds to several minutes. As many as 40 percent of people with narcolepsy are prone to automatic behavior during these “microsleeps” or “sleep attacks.”
Narcolepsy is more than just falling asleep on a whim. It can greatly affect daily activities. People may unwillingly fall asleep while at work or at school, when having a conversation, playing a game, eating a meal, or, most dangerously, when driving or operating other types of machinery. This makes everyday life very frustrating and difficult for those not being treated. Beyond just affecting sleep habits, other symptoms include cataplexy (a sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone while awake that makes a person go limp or unable to move), vivid dream-like images or hallucinations, as well as total paralysis just before falling asleep or just after waking-up.
Life with narcolepsy does not however mean that you sleep much more than those without the condition. You just may experience poor quality sleep or frequent interruptions to sleep. Most adults get an average of 8 hours of sleep which is composed of roughly four to six sleep cycles. A sleep cycle is defined as by a segment of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep followed by a period of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and this is a whole other topic we will save for later. These typical sleep cycles last 100 to 110 minutes. They begin with NREM sleep and after about 80 to 100 minutes, move into REM sleep. People who have narcolepsy often enter REM sleep within a few minutes of falling asleep, a major difference from their counterparts.
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) tends to be the most common symptom experienced and is usually the first to become clinically apparent. Mental cloudiness, a lack of energy, a depressed mood, or extreme exhaustion are all signs of EDS. Sleep deprivation has become one of the most common causes of EDS among Americans. Narcolepsy has also been shown to be linked to cataplexy, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, disrupted nocturnal sleep and obesity. The most common major symptom, other than excessive daytime sleepiness EDS, is cataplexy, which occurs in about 70 percent of all people with narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis and hallucinations are somewhat less common. Only 10 to 25 percent of affected individuals, however, display all four of these major symptoms during the course of their illness.
How do we test for narcolepsy? First, you should begin by talking to your doctor who will refer you to a sleep lab for sleep tests. Narcolepsy requires several tests in order to reach a diagnosis. A sleep doctor will likely perform a physical examination as well as learn in-depth about your medical history to rule out other causes. Just because you have some symptoms of narcolepsy doesn’t mean that will be your diagnosis. Specialized sleep tests at a sleep disorder clinic also may include the polysomnogram (PSG) and the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT). In addition, questionnaires, such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, are often used to measure excessive daytime sleepiness.
With the diagnosis also comes treatment. Here in at PM Sleep Centers, our professionals are prepared to provide relief for you just as we have for thousands of other patients. Treatment options may include behavior and lifestyle changes and recommendations, and prescribed medications.
Life with narcolepsy comes with many challenges without a doubt, but these challenges can find some relief through education the patient, family, friends, communication and honesty, social flexibility and joining support systems. Even with treatment, narcolepsy patients may suffer from sleepiness, difficulties with attention, and cataplexy which can certainly affect the quality of interpersonal relationships and impact performance at school or work. But some relief is surely better than none at all. Contact us today to schedule a sleep test so that you can start feeling better and living life to the fullest. The good news is that narcolepsy is a manageable condition, you just have to make the first call and we are waiting to hear from you.