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What is narcolepsy and how to treat it?

Many people don't understand why they feel excessively sleepy during the day, even after a restful and peaceful night's sleep. It is not uncommon for these people to fall asleep even at unusual times and situations, such as standing up, while driving and so on. Most likely, these people suffer from narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a very common sleep disorder, its main characteristic being excessive daytime sleepiness. It can become a very serious problem, as it is common to bring difficulties and constraints in social, professional and academic life. In addition, the affected person may fall asleep when they are driving, for example. The consequences can be fatal, so narcolepsy needs to be understood and treated

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder caused by the change in the balance of some chemicals in the brain, characterized by excessive sleepiness that can manifest throughout the day, even after a good night's slee

A sleep considered normal begins when muscle control is shut down - when we enter a slow wave sleep phase. About 90 minutes later, we enter the phase of REM sleep, when brain activity is intense. People with narcolepsy skip stages of slow-wave sleep, going straight into REM sleep.

All people affected by narcolepsy suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, what changes is the number of episodes suffered. More common in late adolescence and after age 50, narcolepsy may be linked to genetic factors and low production of hypocretin, the substance that keeps us awake during the day.

What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?

It is important to observe the symptoms of narcolepsy, because it is from the awareness of these symptoms that the affected person will seek a sleep doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

The main symptom, of course, is excessive sleepiness. The patient may even dream in brief periods of sleep, may have multiple naps during the day, and drowsiness may manifest as an inability to remain alert or attentive

Cataplexy is a symptom that is not present in all patients. It is composed of sudden and recurrent episodes of skeletal muscle weakness during wakefulness, except for the diaphragm muscle. Cataplexy can last from

a few seconds to ten minutes and is usually triggered by strong emotion, fright, fits of laughter or anger

Those who suffer from this sleep disorder may also experience total inability to move the limbs, head, or speak upon awakening, and hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations in the transition between wakefulness and sleep and vice versa. Night sleep can be fragmented. And finally, the person may suffer from restless legs syndrome, another very common sleep disorder.

Diagnosis and treatment of narcolepsy

The sleep doctor will perform a clinical evaluation and may use a sleep diary and polysomnography to diagnose this sleep disorder. Treatment is behavioral and pharmacological. The family and the patient will receive specific guidelines, naps must be programmed, sleep hygiene must be performed, and the patient can also have psychological support through the treatment.