Living with Narcolepsy: The Trouble of Staying Awake

Individuals suffering from narcolepsy are all too familiar with the inconveniences this sleep disorder poses, as well as the danger it can bring in certain situations. Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that results in a person’s brain being unable to regulate normal sleeping patterns, which a surprisingly common irregularity, affecting roughly 1 in every 2,000 Americans. What’s even more troubling is that fact that approximately 25% of these patients go undiagnosed, and therefore do not receive treatment; a danger to themselves and those around them.

People with narcolepsy experience chronic daytime fatigue, in addition to a sudden loss of muscle control. More often than not, narcoleptic episodes are caused by emotional distress, which includes working, exercising, and even more dangerously, driving. This can put a severe strain on the lives of those suffering from this sleep disorder, as nearly every activity they take part in now becomes a possibility to sustain an injury.

Narcolepsy is typically evident at a young age, with some people experiencing it earlier than others. The most common ages to see their first bouts of the disorder are between 10 and 25. Though symptoms can vary from person to person, the most common are, as mentioned before, daytime fatigue, sudden loss of muscle control, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. It can also result in poor quality of sleep during the night, preventing certain people from entering the REM stage.

The causes of this interesting disorder are still somewhat unknown, but genetic makeup is likely a large reason why some individual’s brain chemistry is “off.” Research has shown that people suffering from narcolepsy have a lower secretion of hypocretin, which is a chemical in the brain that can regulate sleep. While there is no cure for narcolepsy at the moment, there are precautions that patients can take to effectively live a normal lifestyle.

Healthy changes in one’s life can aid in managing symptoms of narcolepsy. Of course, you’ll want to consult your doctor beforehand when seeking forms of treatment, but adding exercise and dieting can be very beneficial. Some other helpful strategies include scheduling periods throughout the day where you can cap for just 10-15 minutes, resisting caffeine or stimulating medications, taking regular breaks when undergoing larger tasks, and managing your emotions through meditation.

Counseling and support groups exist throughout the country for those suffering from this complicated disorder, as it can cause a great amount of emotional turmoil, depression, and overall difficulty in life. Working alongside a psychologist, counselor, or even an individual also suffering from narcolepsy can help you cope.