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Sleep Disorders

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a central nervous system disorder that affects the sleep cycles of its sufferers. The disorder has by and large been characterized by its tendency to put people to sleep at spontaneous times during the day, but other symptoms like sleep paralysis and hallucinations can be equally prevalent. One of the most pressing issues regarding narcolepsy is not its consequences, but rather society’s misconception of it.

Often confused with excessive daytime sleepiness, this is only a symptom of the disorder, which is actually caused by deficiencies of a hypocretin, the neurotransmitters responsible for maintaining wakefulness.

Symptoms

As mentioned before, the most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Sufferers have cited mental fogginess, apathy, depression and exhaustion as feelings accompanying the onset of the disorder. This has a negative effect on alertness and listening skills, and since it leads to full-on sleep at times, it has been known to affect the memory.

One of the more dramatic symptoms of narcolepsy is cataplexy, a disease causing the onset of muscle-tone loss after laughing, crying and other jarring reactions. Although most cataplectic episodes are rather minor (such as eyelid paralysis), some attacks can actually cause full muscular paralysis. Fortunately, scientists have detected the affected neural group, and these findings may in fact lead to preventative methods for narcolepsy.

Conversely, sufferers may experience sleep paralysis and hallucinations when actually trying to sleep. These episodes may have a harmful impact on their mental state, as some have compared it to feeling trapped or even dying.

Causes

There has been much attention paid to finding the causes of narcolepsy, as symptoms that go unattended at a young age may be magnified if not attended to. It has been difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of narcolepsy as scientists have determined that it is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it is the body’s destruction of a particular cell group that brings upon the aforementioned symptoms. These cell groups all contain hypocretin, a regulator of wakefulness in the body. The disorder is difficult to predict and even detect because it usually spawns without precedent, and its onset is in most cases sporadic. Some of the potential causes of the disorder include infection, trauma, changes in hormone levels, stress and immune-system dysfunction.

Management

While narcolepsy does not have a cure, hypocretin deficiencies can be made up for with drugs like Modafinil and sodium oxybate. Much of the attention is paid to excessive daytime sleepiness, so these drugs will induce levels of increased alertness and wakefulness.

Another management solution has been antidepressants, as they cause less side effects than stimulants or amphetamines.

For night use, sedatives are administered to give the sufferers a good night’s sleep, but these are closely monitored because of concerns behind their misuse. Above all, though, sufferers of narcolepsy need to be more focused on how to avoid the onset of symptoms through living a more scheduled and proactive life.

Prognosis

Fortunately, most people who do get diagnosed will go on to create their own routines control and eventually lower the appearance of symptoms. To manage narcolepsy in the long-term, there have been various behavioral strategies recommended by doctors and scientists to best balance sleep schedules and remain healthy. To improve wakefulness during the day and improve fatigue during the evening, it is advised that a good sleep schedule, the sensible use of caffeine, as well as relaxation exercises, will all help the body function more regularly. Sleep quality will also improve with exercise regimens clocking in at a minimum of 20 minutes a day.

There is further optimism for the future, however. Researchers have isolated the gene responsible for the neurotransmitter deficiencies, and some even speculate that there will be a cure in the long run.

 

 

 

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