Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate normal sleep-wake cycles. People suffering from narcolepsy experience periods of extreme daytime sleepiness punctuated by sudden episodes of sleep that can strike at any time, and with no warning. These “sleep attacks” typically last a few seconds to several minutes. Currently, most individuals with the disorder remain undiagnosed and untreated.
Narcolepsy can have a negative impact on daily activities, with individuals suffering from the disorder unwillingly falling asleep while at work, at school, at the gym, at church, when having a conversation, playing a game, eating a meal, or most dangerously, when driving a car or operating machinery. In addition to daytime sleepiness, other major symptoms may include hallucinations or vivid dreamlike images, as well as total paralysis just before falling asleep or just after waking up. Contrary to popular belief, people with narcolepsy do not experience a greater proportion of their time sleeping during a 24-hour period than do normal sleepers.
Narcolepsy affects both sexes equally, and in most cases narcoleptic symptoms initially appear between the ages of 7 and 25. However, in rare cases narcolepsy may appear at a younger age or in older adults. While the exact cause of narcolepsy is currently unknown, genetics may play a factor. If left undiagnosed and untreated, narcolepsy can have a devastating impact on academic, work and social activities.
The proper diagnosis of narcolepsy usually requires a physical exam and an exhaustive review of the patient’s medical history. Several specialized tests, which can be performed in a sleep disorders clinic or sleep lab, are usually required before a firm diagnosis can be established. Two tests considered essential in confirming a diagnosis of narcolepsy are the polysomnogram (PSG) – an overnight test that takes continuous multiple measurements while a patient is asleep to document sleep cycle abnormalities, and the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) – performed during the day to measure a person’s tendency to fall asleep and to determine whether isolated elements of REM sleep intrude at inappropriate times during the waking hours.
Narcolepsy is a lifelong, chronic condition with no known cure. However, medications and lifestyle changes can help narcoleptics successfully manage their symptoms and lead nearly normal lives. If you or a loved one are suffering from narcolepsy and its symptoms, consider seeking treatment at The Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center at Hoag.
For over 20 years, The Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center at Hoag has studied and treated thousands of patients with sleep disorders. The center was custom built to feel like a high-quality hotel, with eight private bedrooms, each with a private bathroom.
The Voltmer Sleep Center treats the following sleep disorders:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder / Restless Legs Syndrome
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
To learn more about The Voltmer Sleep Center and how their sleep professionals can help you or someone you love, visit them online here.