Updated: July 20, 2021

Narcolepsy (What it is, its distinct types, what causes it, and the best known treatments)

Written by Sumit Pandey

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder in which the brain is unable to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. 

Narcolepsy is not a rare disease, but because the symptoms are so variable and non-specific, it is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. 

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This leads to people suffering from undiagnosed and untreated narcolepsy for years. This article will help build awareness of Narcolepsy. It will discuss what it is, what causes it, and the best-known treatments.

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but a person’s risk of developing narcolepsy may be influenced by their genetic makeup. 

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Researchers have found that narcolepsy is associated with a deficiency in the Hypocretin, also known as orexin, a hormone produced by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. 

Studies also suggest that narcolepsy may be linked to an autoimmune response in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue. Other possible risk factors include physical or emotional stresses and certain infections. 

Additionally, there is some evidence that narcolepsy may be caused by the combination of certain genes. A person’s risk of developing narcolepsy may also be influenced by their ethnicity.

What causes Narcolepsy?

1. Overexertion

2. Mention of death

3. A sudden emotional reaction

4. Mention of something funny

5. A sudden temperature drop or extreme cold

6. Strong emotions in general

7. A sudden bright light

8. A sustained period of wakefulness

9. A meal, especially a high carbohydrate meal

10. Strenuous physical exercise, especially in the evening or night.

Narcolepsy types:

Narcolepsy with cataplexy is the most common and severe form of the disorder. It is estimated to occur in 70% of people with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy with cataplexy is often associated with:

REM sleep atonia

This is a temporary paralysis of most muscles during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs. Normally during REM sleep, the brain sends a signal to the muscles to relax, which prevents people from acting out their dreams. In people with narcolepsy, this signal does not work properly, which allows them to move around while still sleeping.

Sleep paralysis 

This is a temporary inability to move or speak immediately upon waking.

Hypnagogic hallucinations 

This is the experience of vivid, dream-like hallucinations that occur just before falling asleep or upon waking.

Cataplexy

This is a sudden loss of muscle tone that causes a person to collapse. Cataplexy is often triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, anger or excitement.

The symptoms of narcolepsy may vary from person to person and can change over time. Some people with narcolepsy may have all of the signs and symptoms of the disorder, while others may have only a few.

What are the best-known treatments for Narcolepsy?

There are many different treatments for Narcolepsy, but the one that has been most successful is the drug called Modafinil. Modafinil is the most effective treatment for narcolepsy, and it is also the most popular. 

It is a stimulant and is also very effective in treating excessive daytime sleepiness which is common in Narcolepsy sufferers. Many people who suffer from Narcolepsy have found that this drug eliminates their sleep disorder. It is also very helpful in treating cataplexy, which is a symptom of Narcolepsy. 

Cataplexy is when someone loses voluntary muscle control and falls down. It happens because the person is in an emotional state of excitement or laughter. It may seem like a joke to others, but it is no laughing matter for those who suffer from it. 

In fact, research shows that this drug is so helpful that it can eliminate cataplexy in 70% of people within 2 weeks of use. This drug has been around for a while, and it has been known to help with this problem for over twenty years. It is a stimulant drug, and it works by improving the quality of sleep. 

It also increases the amount of time spent sleeping. These are both very important factors in treating narcolepsy. The drug was developed by the French pharmaceutical company Lafon Laboratories and was approved by the FDA for use in the United States in 1998. The drug’s active ingredient is Modafinil, and it is marketed in the United States under the brand name Provigil. 

There are two other drugs that are used to treat narcolepsy. They are called Xyrem and sodium oxybate. Both of these drugs work by restoring low levels of the chemical hypocretin, which is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for controlling wakefulness and sleep. 

These drugs are also approved by the FDA for use in the United States. There are several other drugs and treatments that are used to treat narcolepsy as well, but they are not approved by the FDA for use in the United States at this time.

Conclusion

Narcolepsy is a disorder of the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. Narcolepsy affects about 1 in 2,000 people worldwide, and is more common in women than in men. Narcolepsy is also more common in people of northern European extraction. 

The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but a person’s risk of developing narcolepsy may be influenced by their genetic makeup. Researchers have found that narcolepsy is associated with a deficiency in the Hypocretin, also known as orexin, a hormone produced by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. 

Studies also suggest that narcolepsy may be linked to an autoimmune response in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue. Other possible risk factors include physical or emotional stresses and certain infections. 

Additionally, there is some evidence that narcolepsy may be caused by the combination of certain genes. A person’s risk of developing narcolepsy may also be influenced by their ethnicity.

Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder of the circadian, or 24 hour, biological clock that can cause severe daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. These symptoms may be brought on by common triggers such as stress or fatigue, or can occur spontaneously without warning. 

Narcolepsy affects between 70,000 and 75,000 Americans, and between 200,000 and 500,000 individuals worldwide, according to medical experts and research findings.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Narcoleptics often exhibit all of the following symptoms:

    Excessive daytime sleepiness Excessive sleepiness at inappropriate times, such as during social functions, work, or school.

    Cataplexy: a sudden loss of muscle tone often triggered by strong emotion. This can cause a person to collapse, or to be unable to move for a few seconds. Hypnagogic hallucinations: vivid dreams that occur as the person is falling asleep or waking up.

    Sleep paralysis: inability to move for a few seconds after waking up. This will usually last only a few seconds (and may not be remembered) but can sometimes last longer. Additionally, some Narcoleptics exhibit the following symptoms: Unrefreshing sleep -- Experiencing little or no relief from fatigue despite sleeping for long periods of time. Falling asleep at inappropriate times, such as while driving or eating.

    Waking up frequently during the night and having trouble going back to sleep (this is called sleep fragmentation).

  • Narcolepsy is caused by the loss of a specific group of neurons in the brain called orexin (hypocretin) neurons. These neurons are located in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, which sets the body's internal clock and controls appetite, among other things. The exact cause of narcolepsy is not known, but it probably results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

    The most likely environmental triggers are certain infections, life stressors, and vaccinations. Not everyone exposed to these triggers develops narcolepsy. In fact, in many cases there may be no apparent trigger at all.

  • Yes, Narcolepsy can be inherited in a few rare cases. In most cases there is no family history of the condition. In some families there may be more than one member with narcolepsy; this is likely due to genetic overlap with narcolepsy/cataplexy and other sleep disorders.

  • Narcolepsy affects about one in 2,000 people in most Western countries (1 in 2,000 Asian people may also have narcolepsy). It occurs about ten times more often in men than in women.

Written by Sumit Pandey

My name is Sumit Kumar Pandey and I’m a content writer and blogger who specializes in writing about technology, web design, and online marketing. After working as a research scholar in the engineering field for many years, I’m now a full-time content writer, helping people get more exposure and generate more leads for their businesses.

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