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Narcolepsy : Symptoms and causes

People who suffer from narcolepsy often find it difficult to stay awake for longer periods, regardless of the circumstances. This is a chronic sleep disorder which is characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. This disease can cause serious disruptions in your everyday life. In some cases this sleep disorder can be accompanied by a sudden loss of muscle tone which leads to loss and weakness of muscle control. The sudden loss of muscle tone is also known as cataplexy. This condition is often triggered by a strong emotion which in the most common cases it is laughter. This is a chronic condition for which there is not a cure. But there are many medications and lifestyle changes which you can do because with the help of them you will manage the symptoms. Also you should have support from others such as your family, friends, teachers and employers because with their support you can cope with narcolepsy.

Causes of narcolepsy

The exact cause of this sleep disorder is not known. There can be many causes. The most people, who suffer from it, have low levels of the chemical hypocretin. This is an important neurochemical in their brains which helps regulate REM sleep and weakness. There are some studies in which is said that H1N1 – swine flu and a certain form of H1N vaccine can lead to narcolepsy, but this is not proven.

Symptoms of narcolepsy

The symptoms of this sleep disorder most commonly begin between the ages of ten and twenty five. They may worsen for the first few years and they continue for life. These symptoms include:

Hallucinations: These hallucinations are called hypnagogic hallucinations if they happen as you fall asleep. If these hallucinations happen upon waking, then they are called hypnopomic hallucinations. They may be particularly frightening and vivid because you may be semi – awake when you begin dreaming you are experiencing your dreams as reality.

Excessive daytime sleepiness: People who suffer from narcolepsy fall asleep without warning, anytime, anywhere. For example, they can suddenly nod off while talking or working with friends. They may asleep for a few minutes or up to a half – hour before awakening and they will feel refreshed, but eventually they fall asleep again. Also they are experiencing decreased alertness throughout the day. Excessive daytime sleepiness is usually the first symptom to appear and often it is most troublesome which is making difficult for people to concentrate and fully function.

Sleep paralysis: People, who suffer from this sleep disorder, often experience a temporary inability to speak or move upon waking or while falling asleep. These episodes are usually brief. They last a few seconds or minutes. But they can be frightening. You may be aware of the condition which is happening and you have no difficulty recalling it afterward, even if you had no control over what was happening to you. This sleep paralysis mimics the type of temporary paralysis which normally is happening during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the period of sleep during which most dreaming occurs. This temporary immobility during the rapid eye movement sleep may prevent your body from acting out dream activity. But you should know that not all people who have sleep paralysis suffer from narcolepsy. There are many people without narcolepsy who experience some episodes of sleep paralysis and this is usually happening in the young adulthood.

Sudden loss of muscle tone: This condition is known as cataplexy. It can cause many physical changes from slurred speech to complete weakness of most muscles. It can last for a few seconds to a few minutes. This is uncontrollable condition. It is triggered by intense emotions. Usually these emotions are positive such as excitement or laughter but in some cases it can be anger or surprise. For example, your knees may suddenly buckle when you laugh or your head may droop uncontrollably. There are some people who suffer from narcolepsy and who experience only one or two episodes of cataplexy a year while other people have many episodes daily. But not every single person who has narcolepsy is experiencing cataplexy.