What Causes Narcolepsy
In the late 90’s researchers were able to identify the gene that causes narcolepsy on chromosome 12. The gene permits cells in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates sleep performance) to accept communications from other cells. When this gene is atypical, cells cannot commune properly, and consequently abnormal sleeping patterns develop which in the extreme become severe Narcolepsy.
Regrettably the question “How do you get narcolepsy?” remains a mystery although several current lines of research are demonstrating a greater potential to understand the causes, as well as point towards a cure. This research is leaning towards the management of certain natural chemicals in the brain (called neurotransmitters) that fail to properly maintain boundaries between sleep and wake. Slightly complicating this is evidence that indicates that stress, anxiety and other emotional and environmental issues can also trigger the onset of Narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy Symptoms & Effects
The onset of Narcolepsy can be frustratingly slow to appear, and one of the challenges in dealing with this disorder is that it is not until all the symptoms are present that a clear diagnosis can be determined. The five core symptoms are:
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: An uncontrollable desire to sleep
- Muscle weakening or unexpected relaxation of knees, mouth, eyes drooping, especially when in conjunction with vivid emotions such as fear or laughter
- Striking dreams or lifelike sleep hallucinations as you fall asleep or as you awaken
- Poor sleep experiences at night, falling asleep OK but waking frequently
- Sleep paralysis: Being unable to consciously move or speak whilst falling asleep or on awakening
Diagnosing Narcolepsy is challenging as the symptoms tend to slowly appear over time, primarily between the ages of 15 to 25 years, and remain. Because of this slow appearance many sufferers develop ways and means to work around the symptoms and it becomes workable, if somewhat eccentric at times.
There are now quality tests available with sufficient historical data so as to be reliable in assisting in the diagnosis of Narcolepsy:
- Epworth Sleepiness Scale
- Multiple Sleep Latency Test
- Polysomnography Test
In addition, Sleep Specialists have developed a range of sleep studies that assist in the diagnosis of all the main sleep disorders – Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, Sleep Deprivation, Snoring and now Narcolepsy.