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Your Guide to Common Narcolepsy Symptoms and Treatment

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Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and nighttime sleep interruptions. This can have a significant effect on an individual’s quality of life, which is why it is important to learn about the symptoms and treatments available for narcolepsy. In this article, we’ll discuss how narcolepsy affects everyday life as well as what you can do to mitigate its effects so you can get a good night’s sleep!

Types of Narcolepsy

Types of Narcolepsy

According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Third Edition, there are two types of narcolepsy: narcolepsy type 1 (NT1) and type 2 (NT2). NT type is determined by whether the narcolepsy was triggered by an infection or a head injury.

NT1, also known as narcolepsy without cataplexy, affects approximately 95% of individuals with narcolepsy and can be identified based on patients having either excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) or hypnagogic hallucinations that occur in absence of rapid eye movement (REM). 

NT2, also known as narcolepsy with cataplexy, can usually be diagnosed once patients experience at least one episode of muscular weakness brought on by strong emotional reactions such as laughter while awake. These episodes are typically followed by sudden muscle tone loss and paralysis for up to 15 minutes before resuming normal function.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

The symptoms of narcolepsy can have deliberate effects during the day and at night. The most common symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations that occur in the absence of rapid eye movement (REM).
  • Cataplexy: episodes of sudden loss of muscle tone to result in paralysis and weakness, typically brought on by strong emotional reactions such as laughter while awake.
  • Sleep paralysis: People with narcolepsy often suffer from sleep paralysis, which is the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep, waking up, or when becoming conscious again.
  • Narcolepsy has been found to coincide with Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUDS) and other forms of nighttime parasomnias like sleepwalking and talking in one’s sleep.

Treatments for Narcolepsy

Unfortunately, there is no cure for narcolepsy. The treatment goals for the condition involve reducing symptoms and enhancing the quality of sleep.

Behavioral approaches are non-medical methods of treatment. There are multiple ways that these approaches can be incorporated into the daily habits of people with narcolepsy.

  • Take short naps: Brief naps can be highly refreshing for people with narcolepsy.
  • Develop a sleep routine: Developing habits that promote quality sleep can help reduce symptoms of narcolepsy. A person should go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, in order for their body’s internal clock to stay on track with natural rhythms. They also need to avoid eating or drinking caffeine close to bedtime. Sleep hygiene strategies such as limiting daytime naps, getting plenty of exercise during the day, avoiding late-night meals and keeping nighttime rituals consistent may also be useful.
  • Check out your mattress: Poor quality mattresses are often uncomfortable and inadequate support for people with narcolepsy.
  • Eat a balanced diet: People with narcolepsy have a higher risk of obesity, which makes eating well even more important.
  • Keep a healthy weight: Eating well and getting plenty of exercise are the best ways to maintain a healthy weight for people with narcolepsy, as being overweight can worsen symptoms such as sleep apnea.
  • Get enough time outdoors: Being out in nature has been shown to improve mood and lower stress levels, which is good for anyone’s health but may be especially helpful when managing narcolepsy-related depression or anxiety. Getting exposure to natural light during the day can also help promote better nighttime sleep quality by regulating melatonin production—both factors that may play into narcoleptic insomnia.

Medications For Narcolepsy

Although behavioral approaches are usually practical, most people suffering from narcolepsy also take medications to help control the symptoms. Medications for narcolepsy usually improve many of the symptoms, but they also come with side effects. These drugs should be used carefully and according to the instructions provided by a doctor and pharmacist.

Narcolepsy medications fall into three main categories:

Stimulants, which promote wakefulness and can be used during the day or at night.

Antidepressants, which help with daytime problems like excessive sleepiness and depression.

Sedatives that are only taken when the person is having trouble sleeping. There are many types of narcolepsy medication on the market today because different people respond to drugs in distinctive ways. Doctors will usually prescribe a cocktail of two or more medications for optimum effect.

Unfortunately, not all medications work for every patient. Some patients may experience more irksome side effects or synergies with other drugs. That’s why working closely with your doctor can help identify the proper medication and dosage with the best balance of benefits and side effects.

In addition to prescription narcolepsy remedies, there are also over-the-counter drugs that can help. These include products such as Benadryl or Unisom for daytime symptoms and melatonin for nighttime sleeping problems. If you’re experiencing sleepiness during the day, these medicines may be helpful in combating those occasional bouts of dozing off throughout your workday.

Narcoleptics should take precautions against accidents by driving carefully and avoiding activities like using power tools or heights until they have a better understanding of their individual narcolepsy treatment plan with their doctors. Taken together, all these steps will go a long way towards getting a good night’s rest.

Coping and Support

Dealing with narcolepsy can be detrimental to your health. Making changes to your daily schedule may go a long way towards improving your life and getting a good night’s rest.

You can take some time to cope with narcolepsy, but there is no cure for it yet. The most important thing you can do right now is work closely with your doctor so that they can help develop an individualized treatment plan tailored just for you.

  • Talking about it helps. Tell your peers about your condition and work with them to find ways to accommodate your needs.
  • Staying safe. If you drive a long distance to go to work, establish a medication schedule that guarantees the greatest likelihood of wakefulness during your commute. Plan for naps and breaks whenever you feel the need to get some shut eye. Don’t drive if you feel too sleepy.

Takeaway

In conclusion, Narcolepsy is a common chronic condition for which there’s still no cure. However, lifestyle adjustments and medications can help you manage the deliberating symptoms. Support from peers — family, friends, employers, teachers — can help you cope with narcolepsy. If you or someone you know has narcolepsy, now you have the tools to help live a healthy, productive life.

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