What is Narcolepsy? 5 Lesser Known Facts

what is narcolepsy

As a result of its often trivialized and comical portrayal in sitcoms or movies, narcolepsy is a heavily misunderstood sleep disorder with serious real-world implications.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke classifies narcolepsy as “…a common brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy experience periods of extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden, irresistible bouts of sleep that can strike at any time.”

While it only affects about 1 in 2000 people, friends and family are often deeply impacted by the unpredictable nature of narcolepsy. After all, narcolepsy isn’t simply about a person having the tendency to fall asleep at unpredictable times; it can also be accompanied by hallucinations that cause the affected person to have difficulty separating reality from dreams. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School sites cataplexy (or a sudden weakness in the muscles) as a common symptom. This impact on the muscular system can be mild for some people, but in others, it can mean full-blown paralysis during bouts of sleep.

5 Lesser Known Facts to Further Define ‘What is Narcolepsy?’

#1 REM sleep can happen much earlier in the sleep cycle.

Normal people fall into the deeper stages of sleep at a much slower pace than those afflicted with narcolepsy. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is not usually attainable by normal people until about 90 minutes into a sleep cycle, but people with narcolepsy can fall into REM much sooner.

#2 Strong emotional responses can trigger episodes of cataplexy.
Cataplexy, or sudden loss of muscle response, can dangerously cause a person to collapse on the spot. Researchers believe this to be related to an autoimmune response problem whereby abnormally low levels of hypocretin are produced by the body.

#3 Hallucinations can happen anytime.
Considering that hallucinations can often manifest themselves in the form of terrifying visuals, it can be especially difficult for narcolepsy patients to maintain normal relationships with friends and family, who are incapable of knowing when a hallucination is occurring or not.

#4 Sleep paralysis is dangerously real.
It can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and is completely incapacitating.

#5 Weight gain is very common.
It’s believed that this is caused by a combination of lack of activity, being on medication, and binge eating during periods of wakefulness.

Could You Be Suffering From Narcolepsy?

The Epworth Sleep Scale is a tool used by doctors and researchers to rank severity of narcolepsy based on a patient’s response to given situations. The patient then responds with a 0 for “would never doze or sleep” in a given situation, all the way up to a 3 for “high chance of dozing or sleeping” in a particular situation.

While there is still a degree of uncertainty about its root cause, Mayo Clinic points out that most known cases of narcolepsy present themselves between the age of 10 and 25 years old, meaning that narcolepsy diagnoses often strike teens and adolescents who are particularly vulnerable emotionally.

Start With Better Sleep

Contrary to popular myths, patients affected by narcolepsy don’t spend more time asleep throughout the course of a 24-hour period than normal people. But because of their many fragmented and short bouts of sleep throughout the day/night, there is a generally a pervasive feeling of sluggishness. With the help of medications and lifestyle adjustments, many patients with narcolepsy are able to continue living mostly normal lives despite struggles. In addition to seeking professional treatment from a qualified doctor, implementing subtle improvements in a patient’s nighttime sleep environment can help them feel more at ease and potentially sleep with less interruption through the night. Things that can help include dark window shades, ideal sound isolation (away from blaring TV sets), and even a luxury mattress that provides superior comfort.

Spink & Edgar specializes in making luxury mattresses that provide all sleepers (regardless of medical conditions) with the best balance of support, softness, and temperature regulation of any bed on the market today. We invite you to learn more about our comfort layer design by visiting a retailer near you.

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