Narcolepsy disease

By Jeff Damm

Narcolepsy disease is a neurologic difficulty in which the brain is limited to control the sleep-wake cycle. It can make you have unusual experiences of having an overwhelmed sleepiness any time during the day [1]. A person with narcolepsy illness dozes when driving a vehicle, when eating, drinking, or studying a particular kind of a book.

According to medical scientists of the United States, around 1 in 2,000 individuals suffer from narcolepsy illness.  It affects both women and men. Mostly a survey done by medical experts shows that narcolepsy symptoms start at about 10 to 30 years of age.

Causes of Narcolepsy

The cause of narcolepsy disease is yet to be discovered. Many individuals suffering from this disease contain low levels of brain chemicals called hypocretin also recognized as orexin.  Narcolepsy can be passed from the parents to the children through genetic inheritance.

Another cause of this disease is through an autoimmune reaction where a body attacks itself. Specific viruses have also been associated to cause narcolepsy disease.

Etiology of Narcolepsy disease

The signs and the symptoms of narcolepsy disease can be elucidated by a disorder condition of regulating sleep and consciousness. When an individual is aware, abnormal scenarios of REM sleep occur.

Cataplexy attacks and the sleep paralysis match to the formation, during awareness, of situations of muscular atonia [2]. The hallucinations occur like in a dream that comes when the person is not completely asleep.   

Signs and Symptoms of Narcolepsy

  • Narcolepsy is a sleep disease which is characterized by extreme sleepiness, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. In some cases, people who suffer from this disease experience some cases of cataplexy a condition of total or partial loss of muscle control, frequently caused by a deep emotion like laughter [3].
  • Individuals with narcolepsy illness have a tendency of feeling sleepy during the day and in an involuntary manner may fall asleep during working hours.  In narcolepsy disease, the normal distinguishing factor of sleep and awake is blurred, hence characteristics of sleeping can happen when an individual is awake.
  • Cataplexy results to an immediate loss of muscle tone that leads to weakness of arms, slack jaw, or fatigue in the trunk or legs.
  • Individuals with this disease experience dreamlike paralysis and hallucinations as they fall asleep or wake up.

Treatment of Narcolepsy

A doctor may probably opt for preliminary treatment of narcolepsy centered on the excessive daytime sleepiness and immediate loss of the muscle tone. After the check-up, the doctor may decide to refer the patient to a sleep specialist for a thorough examination.

A formal treatment of narcolepsy disease requires staying overnight at a sleep center. This is carried out for a proper sleep analysis of the narcolepsy sufferer by Narcolepsy sleep specialists/ experts. The procedures and the methods of treating narcolepsy and determining its side effects include:

  • Sleep history: a doctor asks a narcolepsy sufferer an elaborate sleep history. In addition, the doctor gives a patient sleepiness scale, which contains a couple of brief questions to measure the degree of sleepiness.
  • Sleep records:  a specialist asks the patient an explained diary of the sleep pattern for one or two weeks, so a specialist does a comparison of the sleep pattern of the patient and the alertness related. The doctor asks the patient to wear an actigraph [4]. This is a device resembling a wristwatch which measures periods of rest and activity.  It gives an indirect measure of when and how you sleep.
  • Polysomnography: this is a check that measures various signals during sleep using electrodes positioned on the scalp. For this check-up, it is a must to spend a night at a medical hospital. The check-up measures the electrical process of the heart, brain, muscles and eye movements [5]. It is also used to determine your breathing.
  • Multiple sleep latency tests: this is a test that measures the duration taken to fall asleep during the day. The patient is asked to sleep 4 to 5 hours each nap two hours apart.  The sleep specialists examine the sleep patterns of the patient. Individuals who have narcolepsy disease sleep easily and enter into a quick eye movement (REM) [6].

The tests above can assist sleep specialists to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms and the signs of narcolepsy disorder. Other sleep diseases like sleep apnea, sleep deprivation, using sedating medications can cause excessive sleepiness at daytime.

Preventions of Narcolepsy Disease

  • Sticking to one schedule: make sure you sleep early and wake up early at the same time of the day, to create a normal rhythm in your body.
  • Taking naps: arrange some short naps at frequent intervals during the day.  Naps that last for 20 minutes are very helpful because they assist in the refreshing of the brain and reducing the intensity of sleepiness.
  • Avoiding alcohol and nicotine: when you frequently use these substances at night they can worsen the symptoms and the signs of narcolepsy disease.
  • Getting regular exercises:  make sure to have frequent body exercise for at least 4 to 5 hours before bedtime. This helps you a lot by feeling more awake during the day and having a sufficient sleep during the night [7].

Coping and Supporting Individuals with Narcolepsy

Dealing with narcolepsy can be difficult.  Make sure to follow these tips:

  • Talking about it: you should inform your teachers or employer about your narcolepsy condition so that your demands can be accommodated. You are supposed to be permitted to take some short naps during the day, break monotonous tasks at workplaces, and standing during lectures or meeting.
  • Always Be Safe: don’t drive for long distances because there is the likelihood of dozing when driving.  This can lead to grisly road accidents which cause deaths or terminal disability [8]. You may not be able to drive at all. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor about this.

Narcolepsy disease should be treated using the appropriate measures by sleep specialists. Whenever an individual feels the signs and symptoms of this illness,  he or she should go for treatment at credible hospitals. Employers and teachers should not discriminate narcolepsy sufferers but should demonstrate empathy and compassion and recommendations for care with appropriate medical specialists.


  1. Aldrich, M.S., Chervin, R.D., Malow, B.A. Value of the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) for the diagnosis of narcolepsy. Sleep. 2015
  2. ICSD-2 (Ed.) ICSD-2-International classification of sleep disorders, diagnostic and coding manual. 2nd edition. American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Westchester (IL); 2013
  3. De Lecea, L., Kilduff, T.S., Peyron, C. et al, The hypocretins: hypothalamus-specific peptides with neuroexcitatory activity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014
  4. Kanbayashi, T., Kodama, T., Kondo, H. et al, CSF histamine contents in narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnia and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. 2012
  5. Marcus, J.N., Aschkenasi, C.J., Lee, C.E. et al, Differential expression of orexin receptors 1 and 2 in the rat brain. J Comp Neurol. 2015
  6. Nishino, S., Kanbayashi, T. Symptomatic narcolepsy, cataplexy and hypersomnia, and their implications in the hypothalamic hypocretin/orexin system. 2017
  7. Saper, C.B., Scammell, T.E., Lu, J. Hypothalamic regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms. Nature. 2014