Narcolepsy is a complex disease of the immune and central nervous system characterized by sudden, complex sleep disturbances that manifests as pronounced daytime sleepiness with sudden attacks of sudden falling asleep and weakness, also with possible hallucinations when falling asleep and waking up.
To date, the causes of narcolepsy have not been sufficiently studied. According to some experts, they are based on a lack of orexin, a biologically active substance in the brain that regulates the processes of falling asleep and awakening. The therapy offered today is able to alleviate the symptoms of the disease, but does not help to get rid of it.
Narcolepsy usually develops in young people, more often in men. There are opinions that the disease is hereditary.
Extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden daytime sleep attacks are usually the first and most noticeable symptoms of narcolepsy. The drowsiness is so unbearably severe that the patients literally fall asleep, despite the extreme reluctance to do so or the completely inappropriate environment.
Characteristic manifestations of narcolepsy:
- Extreme daytime sleepiness and sudden daytime sleep attacks are usually the first symptoms of narcolepsy. The drowsiness is so severe that the patients fall asleep in spite of the extreme reluctance to do so, or in the most unsuitable environment. This is especially dangerous if a person is associated with professions that require increased attention. Daytime falling asleep can be repeated several times every day and last from a few seconds to several minutes. During episodes of daytime sleep, at first there is a gradual slowing down of speech, then a “fall” of the head and a complete shutdown of consciousness. At the same time, patients, as a rule, still manage to take a position that is comfortable for sleeping. After waking up, patients feel cheerful and energized. However, after a few hours, severe drowsiness develops again.
- Cataplexy is an attack of sudden weakness against the background of strong positive or negative emotions (laughter, surprise, sexual intercourse, crying, anger). Weakness is due to loss of muscle tone. The attack can develop so quickly that the patient may fall and be injured. The duration of an attack ranges from a few seconds to several minutes. This may be followed by falling asleep.
- Hypnagogic (during falling asleep) and hypnapompic (during awakening) hallucinations are vivid acoustic or visual visions, similar to a dream, that occur during falling asleep or waking up. They are also called “waking dreams”, as a person realizes that he is not yet sleeping, but is already beginning to dream. At the same time, visions are introduced into the environment: people or fabulous creatures can walk around the bedroom. The person may hear voices, music, or see flashes of light. Usually these visions are accompanied by fear and anxiety.
- Sleep paralysis is a condition characterized by complete immobility upon awakening. The person is fully conscious and adequately assesses the situation, but cannot move. Only the ability to blink and move the eyes is retained. Sleep paralysis is more common in the morning, but can occur in the evening and at night. This situation can be very frightening, especially in the case of frightening hallucinations against the background of immobility. The attack can last from a few seconds to several minutes and ends with a gradual restoration of control over movements.
Unfortunately, narcolepsy has no cure. However, supportive care can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life. Drug therapy consists in the appointment of stimulants that reduce daytime sleepiness, as well as the appointment of products that reduce the symptoms of cataplexy or sleep paralysis. The use of these funds should be carried out under strict medical supervision.
Special attention should be paid to sleep hygiene. It is required to ensure sufficient night sleep, as well as sleep during the day 1-2-3 times for 30-60 minutes. It is necessary to resolve the issue of choosing a profession that allows you not to adhere to a rigid schedule of sleep and wakefulness, and is also not associated with the use of means or mechanisms that require increased attention.