Narcolepsy is an autoimmune condition, meaning your immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissues or cells in an inappropriate way. With narcolepsy, brain cells that control sleep-wake cycles are affected.
Narcolepsy can take two main forms, types 1 and 2. Narcolepsy type 1 involves cataplexy – an acute loss of muscle tone usually brought on by strong emotions like anger or laughter that can become dangerous if driving or eating; it can even interfere with everyday life. Type 2 narcolepsy doesn’t typically involve cataplexy but still shares many symptoms with type 1.
While its cause remains unknown, experts speculate that infections such as H1N1 influenza and strep throat bacteria could trigger changes and malfunctions within the brain that lead to its development.
People living with narcolepsy frequently struggle to sleep soundly throughout the night and will only catch brief restorative snatches throughout their days, which can have serious effects at work and school, and make maintaining close relationships more challenging.
If you have narcolepsy, your doctor will likely suggest lifestyle modifications, medications and sleep therapy as strategies to help manage and enhance the quality of your life. These tactics will provide you with effective relief.
A key strategy in treating narcolepsy is getting enough sleep. Your doctor may suggest tracking your sleeping-wake patterns with an actigraphy device – similar to a wristwatch-like monitor – which records when you are awake or sleeping and will use this data to assess whether you’re getting sufficient sleep. This information will then allow them to assess whether you are getting enough sleep.
Narcolepsy can be treated using medications including wakefulness-promoting agents that reduce excessive daytime sleepiness, or EDS, and make it easier to stay alert. Antidepressants which help with cataplexy, and medications which modify histamine, norepinephrine or serotonin reuptake. These drugs may help with both EDS and cataplexy by increasing neurotransmitter release, decreasing their reuptake or blocking their receptors.
These medicines may all cause side effects, so consult your doctor about which is right for you. In general, most people with narcolepsy find these medicines well tolerated, though any changes should be discussed with their physician prior to becoming pregnant or breast feeding.
Good sleep hygiene and taking frequent naps can help you remain alert during the day. Be mindful to avoid alcohol, tobacco use or eating a heavy meal late at night as these can all interfere with sleep. Eat a nutritious diet and stay physically active; eating regularly without skipping meals could aggravate digestive problems and result in acid reflux or indigestion; scheduling your meals and snacks around when you’re most alert may also improve sleeping patterns.
Speaking to your doctor regarding ways you can cope with stress or anxiety can also aid better sleep and help restore good night’s sleep!