What is narcolepsy?
This disease is characterized by irrepressible sleep attacks and excessive sleepiness. This disorder can come into play at any time and sees sufferers, known as narcoleptics fall asleep anywhere; be it on the train, at work, whilst shopping or even behind the wheel. Narcolepsy persists throughout a sufferer’s life and will have an impact on all aspects of personal, professional, social and family life of the patient (depending on the degree of severity). In the most severe cases, as you can probably imagine, it can make leading a ‘normal’ life very difficult. This disorder can occur at any age, but the first episode normally appears during adolescence. Indeed, this pathology affects about 1 in 2,800 people and certainly isn’t discriminatory because it targets both men and women.
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The 5 main symptoms of narcolepsy
The following scenarios may suggest you suffer from this sleep disorder.
1) The sudden urge to sleep
If you find yourself facing the irrepressible urge to sleep when you are bored or inactive, then you could be narcoleptic. No matter where you are, whether you are standing, sitting or lying down, if you find yourself dozing off then alarm bells might should be ringing.
Cataplexy refers to the sudden loss of muscle tone and can affect various groups. In some cases, this can lead to falls and seizures which can last a few minutes, during which the affected person feels paralyzed and experience a temporary inability to move.
3) Interrupted nights
Sufferers wake up several times during the night, and their sleep schedule is often very disorganized. It’s fair to say that narcoleptics rarely enjoy a good quality of sleep because they struggle to regulate wakefulness.
4) Sleep paralysis
This is probably the scariest symptoms related to this disorder. Here, subjects remain paralyzed for a few seconds before or after sleep. In fact, sleep paralysis associated with auditory and/or visual hallucinations affects sufferers in 50 to 60% of cases.
Many times, the hallucinations appear during the seconds before or after sleep. They often accompany sleep paralysis, making it all the more terrifying for the sufferer.
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People with narcolepsy do not necessarily have all the symptoms described above. The risk of a seizure is higher (sleep or catalepsy) when the person experiences intense emotions.
What causes this sleep disorder?
The causes of narcolepsy are not well known. The disease appears preferentially in people who carry certain genes, even if these are not sufficient to trigger the disease. Here, a neurotransmitter known as a hypo cretin located in the brain could be one of the principal causes of narcolepsy. Nevertheless, other factors could be involved, such as certain autoimmune processes, viral diseases, brain trauma or certain toxic substances.
How to limit the impact of narcolepsy
A few preventive naps of about 20 minutes during the day, combined with a sufficient amount of sleep and a regular rhythm, help to prevent seizures. People suffering from this disease should carry a card stating their pathology, because in case of a fall due to a sudden sleep or cataleptic seizure, this can avoid unnecessary hospitalization. There is no real cure for this disease, and part of the treatment is therefore behavioral. In order to learn to live with this disease, several complementary approaches hope to combat the symptoms, however, they do not work for everyone.
If you suffer from narcolepsy, you may want to look into the following lifestyle changes
A different diet
Limiting gluten, dairy products and refined foods is a good place to start if you wish to limit the symptoms. Eating mainly fruits and vegetables from organic farming can help contribute to easing the episodes.
Osteopathy could also be effective if hypersomnia is linked to cranial disorders (according to the osteopathic conception of this term). In this case, work on the craniofacial axis could help fight against narcolepsy.
Paradoxically, hypnosis is a method that could prove interesting for treating narcolepsy or, at least, for reducing the attacks. The ideal is to call upon a therapist practicing Erickson hypnosis.
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Editor’s advice - Don’t let the disease ruin your life
If you, or anyone you know, is affected by narcolepsy, then make the choice to reach out to a team of professionals in order to learn more about what you are going through and what you can do about it. This disease doesn’t have to feel like a prison, and the good news is that when it is properly addressed and monitored, people can lives normal lives.
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